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Outrage: Gropius buildings bulldozed in Chicago

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IN PICTURES: Work has begun on demolishing Chicago’s empty Michael Reese Hospital, featuring eight buildings by Bauhaus pioneer Walter Gropius

Despite failing to win the 2016 Olympic Games – the hospital site was earmarked for the new athletes’ village – and calls from the international architectural community (see story below), the city has decided to press on with flattening the complex.

Only one of the Gropius-designed blocks on the 29-building campus has managed to win a temporary reprieve – the 1950 Singer Pavilion (pictured below) which the local authorities have singled out as a ‘potential candidate for redevelopment’.

Grahm Balkany of campaign group, the Gropius in Chicago Coalition, said: ‘It is the first major Gropius work of a permanent nature to be demolished in decades. In fact, one can count on two hands the number of such Gropius permanent architectural projects that ever were demolished.

He added: ‘The City has made a very lukewarm commitment to saving just one Gropius building, which is a revelation, but simultaneously they announced that the wholesale demolition of the rest of the campus will be starting immediately.

‘Saving one out of eight buildings is unacceptable.’

Temporarily spared: The Singer Pavilion

Temporarily spared: The Singer Pavilion was the first medical building on the Reese Hospital campus involving Walter Gropius. It was designed from 1946-1948 and erected by late 1950

UPDATE: November 17, 2009

Grahm Balkany, director, Gropius in Chicago Coalition

With deepest regrets, I write to inform you that the Serum Center at Michael Reese Hospital, one of the true stars of the Gropius-designed Michael Reese Hospital Campus, is now under demolition.

Gropius worked tirelessly on the building, collaborating with Norman Fletcher of TAC and A. Epstein and Sons of Chicago from 1950 through the building’s delayed completion in late 1955/ early-1956.  Due to the unique circumstances that led to the building’s creation, it was a particularly special addition to the Michael Reese campus with an unusually rich architectural history.

The structure, which was almost entirely intact and unaltered from its original condition, also held a special place in Gropius’s total portfolio, bridging the gap between the seminal Harvard Graduate Center and later works such as the US Embassy in Athens, Greece.

Four photos of the demolition can be seen on our web site. We will be posting more in the days ahead.

Thanks again to all of you for your continued support and interest in this dire matter. There are five Gropius works remaining at Michael Reese Hospital, each with wonderful and unique qualities. We are still very hopeful there may be additional buildings saved in the weeks ahead.


Previous story (30.09.09)

Brit joins battle to save Gropius hospital in Chicago

John Pardey is leading the British front in the fight to save Chicago’s empty Michael Reese Hospital from demolition

The complex – which includes eight buildings by Bauhaus pioneer Walter Gropius – is due to be flattened to make way for an Olympic village if the city is handed the 2016 Olympic Games on Friday (2 October).

The Hampshire-based architect secured planning for the re-use of Gropius’ Grade II-listed Denham Film Laboratories in Buckinghamshire in 2008, and has been asked by The Gropius in Chicago Coalition (GCC) to also help bolster its campaign to protect the 1950s landmark.

Initial plans for the Olympic village were drawn up by SOM – although the practice is not guaranteed of taking the scheme forward should the bid be successful.

Pardey said: ‘It is shocking to find [these buildings] are threatened with destruction… when, with a little more thought, the existing buildings could be adapted and reused.

‘I just cannot believe, in a city that has Mies van der Rohe’s Crown Hall, that [the authorities] realise what they are doing.’

Pardey has already contacted various senior figures, including the Mayor of Chicago (letter attached) and is hoping more British architects will join the campaign (click here to support the bid).

A GCC spokesman Grahm Balkany added: ‘It is ironic [because] SOM’s plan destroys two buildings by their own firm. [But also], is any firm in the US more indebted to the ideas of Gropius and Mies than them?

Balkany believes many of the blocks could still be re-used. He added: ‘Gropius and his associates planned these buildings for a long life and maximum flexibility…were specifically planned to be highly adaptable.

‘As Chicago attempts with great effort to refashion itself as an environmentally-conscious city, an effort led by none other than Chicago’s mayor, we are quite distressed by the city’s wasteful and brazen tabula rasa program for Gropius’s campus.’


In an interview with the US-based The Architect’s Newspaper, Cassandra Francis, director of the proposed Olympic Village development said: ‘We are actually not considering alternative plans because we have received very positive feedback for our plans from the Olympic committee.  If we do get the games, there is no room for preservation because we wouldn’t have Gropius buildings within the plan.’

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