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Architectural Legacy Threatened

(Continued from Part 1: Parks)

There are parks, schools, and community institutions that could be impacted if the Olympic Village is built on the site of Michael Reese Hospital.

At 3113 S. Rhodes, Pershing East Elementary, a small Bauhaus-style gem, sits exactly where the Chicago 2016 bid book shows a “transport mall” the Village. Though the school does not appear in the bid book’s renderings, Chicago 2016 has reportedly said it will not be torn down. But questions from Newstips about whether it would be closed to accommodate construction were not answered.

On the same block, Lake Meadows Park will be paved for a parking lot, with subsequent restoration reportedly promised. A large wooded section of Burnham Park east of the village will be leveled to provide facilities for athletes, and the bid book shows a “security command and fire brigade” in the historic Olivet Baptist Church. A city spokesperson referred questions to Chicago 2016, which did not respond.

But the urgent concern of local preservationists is the imminent demolition of the hospital campus, much of it designed after World War II under the guidance of Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, a seminal modernist architect. The campus includes the only buildings in Chicago designed by Gropius and is one of a small number of extensive Gropius projects in the world.

IIT architecture student Grahm Balkany was researching Gropius’s role when the city began moving to purchase the campus for an Olympic Village. So far he’s documented Gropius’s direct involvement in eight Reese buildings; he believes there are probably more. As the “guiding hand” to the hospital’s campus master plan, Gropius had a wide influence on its post-war expansion.

At the time Balkany went public with his preliminary findings, Chicago 2016 said no decisions had been made about what buildings to demolish. Since then, however, they’ve taken a hard line, citing an earlier agreement to preserve the original 1907 hospital building as if that precludes further consideration.

“We’re trying to show the world that we’re a world-class city, and the first thing we’re going to do is tear down a huge collection of buildings by arguably the greatest architect of the 20th century,” said Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago. “It’s kind of insane.”

Many of the most significant buildings are “perfectly adaptable,” he argues. Balkany points out that the Olympic Village will require a laundry, a clinic, and a main dining hall, all of which exist or could be served by Gropius buildings, which include large and small structures.

Instead, Chicago 2016 is planning 21 identical 12-story buildings — reminiscent to some of Robert Taylor Homes, except they’re placed on huge parking pedestals, like the new developments plaguing the Near North Side.

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