Where Prentice Stood

The former site of the Prentice Women's Hospital building by Bertrand Goldberg, demolished in 2014.
The upper floors of the new Arkes Pavilion give a clear view of 333 East Superior, where the old Prentice Women’s Hospital building stood.  Completed in 1975, the building was part of Northwestern Hospital, which demolished it in 2013-14, despite long and intense opposition.  The building’s architect was Bertrand Goldberg.

Prentice, which housed not only Northwestern’s maternity hospital but its psychiatric ward, was unforgettable on account of its peculiar rounded tower, a cylindrical cluster in the shape of a clover-leaf or quatrefoil, which seemed to float or balloon over a squat dark building that formed its base.  The tower, made mainly of poured concrete, had disproportionately small oval windows whose placement accentuated the tower’s strange shape.

The building was an example of the brutalist style (of which Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago is an instance, too).  It was assertively drab; impractical, too.  Ironic, then, that it should live on in one’s mind: provocative and futuristic, one-of-a-kind.

5 responses

  1. Editor’s note: This comment exchange refers to a photograph by Carol Highsmith published in the right sidebar.

    Hi Susan – I was looking at the Carol Highsmith collection of photographs in Cuba, but couldn’t tell what year or years they were taken – they only say 1946-, but nothing more specific.  Do you know anything more about the collection?  Should I just dig deeper into the LOC to get more info?   As usual – just love your writing!  Michele

    • Hi Michele–
      I’m so glad you asked me to look into this–I never would have guessed Highsmith’s pictures of Cuba were taken as recently as 2010. I found a statement from her about the trip, which introduces an app that is available to view all the photographs conveniently:
      Otherwise there is not much information out there about it (though there is an extensive entry about Highsmith herself on Wikipedia).
      Highsmith was born in 1946 and spends all of her time traveling around photographing mainly America and American society. She is donating all her life’s work to the Library of Congress on a copyright-free basis. She is a remarkable person!

  2. I was in Prentice a few times to visit folks and did find it kind of an odd place. The last time was around 2012; the interior was tired and shabby in the parts I saw. By then Northwestern had obviously decided to “let it go.”………… Unlike Marina City, which is round and pleasant to look at, the roundness of Prentice was–to me–only eye-catching in its ugliness.

    • Good point–Marina City (which Goldberg also designed) is far more appealing and has done much better ‘earning its keep’ as a building. Prentice’s circular design was forward-looking in that the patient rooms radiated out from a central nucleus, creating an efficient arrangement that was also supposed to be ‘communal.’ On the other hand, the curved facade meant that the walls of the rooms all curved and many were irregular shapes, which was okay in the maternity ward, but in the psych ward? No thank you.
      Still, I’m sad that another use couldn’t have been found for the building. It was significant, and now no one else will get to experience it.