The Art Institute of Chicago currently has a Bertrand Goldberg retrospective, the first of its kind. Goldberg is well known in Chicago for several works of architecture: Marina City on the north bank of the Chicago River as well as the Prentice Women’s Hospital, which has been in the news lately because of a discussion about whether it should be preserved.
Here are a few photos from the exhibit:
A few thoughts about Goldberg’s work:
1. His primary design form, concrete cobs or wavy walls around a circular core, are quite unique. However, I can’t imagine any building today being built in this style. This has definitely aged.
2. The exhibit portrayed him as a visionary because of his interest in reviving the city through large, self-contained developments. This sort of sounds like New Urbanism but the scale is quite different as are the aesthetics with large concrete surfaces. This reminded me more of Le Corbusier or the arcologies found in Simcity. The self-contained nature of these developments might stop people from fleeing to the suburbs but it wouldn’t necessarily push them to interact with the wider city.
3. Goldberg is known for a few high profile works but also designed a number of other things as well including lots of hospitals, some houses, public buildings, and household items like chairs.
4. My biggest critique of the exhibit: the buildings and designs are given without context. Take Marina City. It definitely is iconic and interesting. Yet, how did it get built? How was the land acquired and the project pushed through the city government? How did it affect the surrounding neighborhood? What is its legacy beyond its walls? For example, the developer for the project was Charles Swibel, a man well-connected to Mayor Richard J. Daley and an unsavory character when it came to things like public housing. While the exhibit suggested Goldberg was trying to help the city, did he really do so in the long run? What was needed was the perspective of an urbanist who could provide some commentary about the overall effect of these buildings. While the exhibit mainly focused on design elements, it really is also an opportunity to assess how Goldberg’s design helped or hindered American cities.