The Expense of Preservation

February 9, 2006 Chicago Buildings, Economics Comments Off on The Expense of Preservation 1226

Preservation is often characterized as expensive. Why? Because it is a good excuse, even for the richest.

One of the preservation tragedies we have been awaiting these last few years is the demolition of Bertrand Goldeberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago, a mighty and evocative design from the 1960s, the last era of optimism. A Quatrefoil in plan, it took the stem-and-petals constructional idiom of Goldberg’s signature Marina City and evolved a powerful flower of a building, four cylindrical lobes of beautiful 60s concrete studded with rounded windows – for a guy Goldberg was pretty good at channelling the lost feminine tradition in Modernism and he was certainly an intellectual leader in recapturing that tradition from the Miesian hegemony.

The building will be demolished by Northwestern Memorial Hospital for all of the usual excuses: too old and inefficient, too much maintenance (as opposed to new buildings that don’t require maintenance???) and of course too expensive. We all know preservation is too expensive – it is drilled into our heads through repetition (as opposed to reason) just like we know that we all need to replace our windows. The “too expensive” mantra is then followed by a false appeal to the angels of preservation “if someone had enough money…”.

Okay, here is the lead from a Tribune article by Bruce Jappsen in today’s business section:
“Long the envy of area hospitals, Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s cash position recently hit $1 billion for the first time…”

That’s not equity or assets – that’s cash, bro.

They can pay all of their bills (health care bills!) for the next year and a half NO MATTER WHAT. I can’t say that – can you?

Too bad there isn’t someone with money who could preserve this building.

Oh you can go through the footnotes – they have $1 billion in capital expenditures coming up the next five years (it ain’t cheap to tear down landmarks and it costs even more to build dreck in their place) and Medicare will soon vanish and so on and so forth and don’t stop talking or someone will call you on it

When the wealthy and powerful whinge they do it with such…humanity. It’s almost convincing.