Tearing down Gropius in Chicago?

    We know that Walter Gropius was involved in the design of the Michael Reese Hospital campus in Chicago. It's a gorgeous mid-century modern site. Mayor Richard M. Daley wants to tear it down and soon.

    Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus, is with Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, one of the three pioneers of modern design. Chicago should treasure this. But scavengers are already in there, pulling things down. Salvagers are pulling off metal, to sell for scrap.

    Gropius worked on this with local firms who were the architects of record, this may account for the lack of interest. After extensive research, a graduate student from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Grahm Balkany says Walter Gropius had great involvement in the design of at least eight of the buildings and the master planning. He can show you drawings, hospital records and other documents to show Gropius's deep involvment. he even has a copy of a letter from a Chicago architect to Gropius complaining that Gropius is doing too much of the design!

    I video'ed Grahm Balkany in front of the Michael Reese power plant (1952-54), which is not typical of the style of the campus. But it's a great "book-end," and "quote," by Gropius and others paying homage to Mies van der Rohe, who designed the Illinois Insititute of Technology just a few blocks away, with a very similar power plant. Between the two is work by Louis Sullivan, townhouses by Frank Lloyd Wright, and just a little south stands, saved from its own demolition threats in 1957, Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House.

    Shouldn't Chicago think about preserving this and creating a district showing the birth of Modern Architecture? Wouldn't that be smarter, more responsible and less wasteful than tearing this down? Did I say less wasteful?

    It stands on the land on which Mayor Daley plans to build an "Olympic Village Plaza." He's bidding for the 2016 games. But he's not waiting to see if he gets them. On April 10, 2009 the City of Chicago issued a request for bids to demolish Michael Reese. Bids are due this month. The city ain't playing. The Mayor almost always gets what he wants.

    Chicago's Olympic bid offers much, but not a real legacy for the games. The stadium is supposed to come down after its use. Wouldn't it be a terrific Olympic legacy to restore this historic site of the International Style? The advocacy group Preservation Chicago believes it would not be hard to turn the former hospital rooms into a dormitories for Olympic athletes. The group put Michael Reese’s modernist buildings on their Most Endangered list.

    It would be good for Chicago to preserve this campus. Play up your architectural history, don't tear it down!

    I note here than we can read in at least one biography of Walter Gropius that he was not completely satisfied with the results at Michael Reese and that he lamented not getting a solo commission. Balkany points to correspondence from Gropius that shows that he was not unhappy with the way things were working out, and that he was pleased with the collaborative process. Gropius certainly remained involved in the design of Michael Reese for many years.

    Grahm Balkany has formed the "Gropius in Chicago Coalition." Do check out their website.

    If you're in the town that tears down better architecture than most cities put up, Chicago, go see Balkany's presentation on

    Monday, April 20, 2009
    6 to 7 pm

    Please register and arrive at 5:30

    at the Hafele America Co. Chicago Showroom
    154 W. Hubbard St.
    Chicago IL 60654 (MAP)
    Phone: 312-467-2225

    From the Invitation: Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus and one of the undisputed world leaders of architecture during the twentieth century, is generally not known to have executed works in Illinois. However, new architectural research has revealed that the virtually unheralded site of Michael Reese Hospital on Chicago’s South Side contains not one, but a collection of Gropius works, commissioned over an impressive period of 15 years. At this site, Walter Gropius executed ... a surprisingly complete portrait of the artist, comprising site planning, urban design, and execution of individual buildings.

    Join us for an important lecture by Grahm Balkany of the Gropius in Chicago Coalition.

    With the site now purchased by the City of Chicago for intended residential redevelopment, current plans call for the razing of the entire hospital site, leaving only one building out of 30 standing. In the process, Chicago’s built Gropius legacy, a tremendous asset and tangible opportunity, would be entirely lost.

    Join us for this timely seminar and become informed about this intriguingly forgotten history, current proposals, and possible alternatives.

    If you can't make Monday's talk, the group plans a tour of the Michael Reese campus on May 17. $10 suggested donation. Reservations not required. If you want to see it, it may be your last chance.

    Here are a few photos I took earlier in the week. First, the power plant.

    Here's the one by Mies at IIT.

    More from the Michael Reese campus:

    The arcadian scene is an early landscape design work by Hideo Sasaki, (and others). Sasaki was no carpetbagger, he had studied at the University of Illinois, in addition to Berkeley and Harvard. From 1958 - 1968, he chaired Harvard's Landscape Architecture Department, and helped to connect landscape to planning, as we see at Michael Reese. His Cambridge, Massachusetts-based firm, Sasaki, now works worldwide.
    . (Photo not by me.)

    Sasaki won an international design competition to draw the master plan for the main site of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. It could also be a part of Chicago's Olympic legacy to restore Hideo Sasaki's mid-century work in Chicago. They could connect this with the parkland the Olympic organizers plan nearby over the McCormick Place truck yards. You can't plant a mature landscape, just like you can't make old friends.

    I'm not hopeful that any of this will be saved. I grew up in Chicago when they tore down Louis Sullivan masterpieces. Not far from Michael Reese stand the charred remains of Louis Sullivan's great K.A.M./Pilgrim Baptist Church (1891) which burned in 2006.

    Chicago can be a brutal, mercantile, short-sighted jungle. The same spirit that builds these wonderful things causes them to suffer. Currently, a small building by Mies van der Rohe and his office is slated for demolition.

    When I visited the Michael Reese campus last Sunday with Balkany, he showed me a plaque at the base of a tree on the Reese campus. The plaque reads, “This tree planted in appreciation of Walter Gropius, Architect and Educator, whose guiding hand contributed so much to the planning of this campus and its buildings.”

    Two days ago I got an email from Grahm Balkany,
    Hi Edward,

    I wanted to write you with a small update on Reese:

    I’m glad you got to see it when you did – sometime between our visit on Sunday evening and yesterday afternoon....

    Best regards,

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