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Walter Gropius

Grahm Balkany’s mood lurches from admiration to anguish as he strolls among a group of small, flat-roofed hospital buildings on Chicago’s South Side.

“Look how progressive that is,” he exclaims, pointing to where slatted awnings filter sunlight that falls on patients’ rooms. A moment later, he gazes mournfully on scattered trash, uncut grass, and other signs of neglect. “I can’t tell you how beautiful this was at one point,” he says.

Recently, while studying engineering and architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), Mr. Balkany discovered that one of the great minds of modern architecture, Walter Gropius, lay behind many of these buildings, built in the 1950s and early ’60s in a great gust of urban renewal on the South Side. But what began as a triumph for scholarship and Chicago’s architectural history has quickly soured. The city intends to tear down at least 28 buildings on the Michael Reese Hospital campus, including those linked to Gropius, to make room for the 2016 Olympics. Architectural preservationists have so far protested in vain.

“There’s no question that Walter Gropius was instrumental in the overall master planning of the campus and in designing many of the buildings,” says Jonathan Fine, executive director of Preservation Chicago, a group that tries to bring attention to important buildings that are imperiled. “On that basis alone, at least the buildings he designed should be preserved.”


Richard Mertens
Christian Science Monitor


Daniel Burnham, giant of Chicago architecture

Two internationally renowned architects, including Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Zaha Hadid, will design temporary pavilions in Millennium Park to serve as focal points for next year’s regionwide celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Burnham Plan, the visionary document that changed the face of Chicago.

The Iraqi-born, London-based Hadid, who in 2004 became the first woman to win the Pritzker, is best known for fluid, dynamic forms that pack swirling energy, such as her new covered-bridge pavilion at an international exposition in the Spanish city of Zaragoza.

Ben van Berkel, who heads the Amsterdam-based firm called UNStudio, has turned heads with structures such as the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, a striking showroom for cars and trucks that consists of two spiral ramps in the form of a double-helix.

How these two paragons of the avant-garde will come to terms with the late Chicago architect and planner Daniel Burnham, a committed classicist who sought to transform rough-edged Chicago into a civilized Paris on the Prairie, is anybody’s guess…

Unveiled in 1909 and formally known as the Plan of Chicago, the Burnham Plan led to the creation of such local landmarks as Navy Pier, North Michigan Avenue, double-deck Wacker Drive and the city’s continuous chain of lakefront parks. Also cited as a key generating factor in the creation of the Cook County forest preserves, the Burnham Plan is widely credited with founding the field of modern city planning.

The pavilions, which will be the site of exhibits and events about the Burnham Plan and current visions for the region, are to be located on the south side of Millennium Park’s Chase Promenade, not far from the Crown Fountain and its raucous reflecting pool.

Blair Kamin
Chicago Tribune