The Prentice Women’s Hospital building was once an architecturally iconic structure standing at 333 E Superior Street in the Streeterville neighborhood. In this edition of the “Lost Legends” series, we explore the history of the original Prentice Women’s Hospital building and its cutting-edge care, the vision of its architect, the hospital’s relocation and subsequent demolition of the structure, as well as its present-day replacement.
The original Prentice Women’s Hospital building was designed by the acclaimed architect Bertrand Goldberg, who began working on the project in 1971, following the consolidation of Passavant Deaconess Hospital and Wesley Hospital. The medical facility, named after American anthropologist Abra “Abbie” Cantrill Prentice, opened in 1975. As part of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, the hospital focused on women’s health, offering advanced medical care in a nurturing environment. The facility quickly gained a reputation for its commitment to women’s health and its innovative approach, which included specialized care for high-risk pregnancies, comprehensive breast cancer treatment, and state-of-the-art gynecological services.
Renowned architect Bertrand Goldberg, known for his inventive and futuristic approach, embraced Brutalist elements in his design for a one-of-a-kind hospital. The building featured a raw concrete exterior and a striking quatrefoil configuration, capturing the essence of the Brutalist movement. This 9-story concrete tower boasted cantilevered oval windows atop a 5-story rectangular base, showcasing a unique blend of form and function.
Goldberg’s vision prioritized fostering collaboration among medical professionals while providing a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere for patients and their families. The tower was dedicated to maternity care, with strategically placed nursing stations and patient wards in distinct areas of the structure. This design significantly shortened the distances between medical staff and patients.
Esteemed structural engineer William F. Baker lauded the hospital for its intricate curvilinear design, recognizing it as unparalleled in the world of architecture. In a pioneering move, Bertrand Goldberg & Associates implemented early computer-aided design techniques for the hospital’s construction. According to an article in Engineer News-Record, the team repurposed software initially used in the aeronautical industry (a similar move to Frank Gehry’s later adoption of aerospace software), devising a 3D mapping method that expedited the design process by several months.
Relocation and Demolition
In 2007, Prentice Women’s Hospital relocated to a new, state-of-the-art facility at 250 East Superior Street, doubling the size of the previous facility at 947,000 square feet and featuring one of the largest Neonatal Intensive Care Units in the country. The transition to the new facility took a few years, leaving the original building vacant in 2011, upon which Northwestern University announced plans to demolish the old building and replace it with a medical research facility.
There was opposition from preservationists and prominent architects, including at least six Pritzker Prize winners who appealed to Chicago’s “global reputation as a nurturer of bold and innovative architecture.” To address the practical considerations of the site and avoid demolition, Jeanne Gang, in collaboration with architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, had proposed a glassy research skyscraper that would integrate the original concrete structure as its podium. Ultimately, the decision to demolish the original hospital building was made, and demolition commenced in 2013, concluding in 2014.
What’s There Now
The former site of the original Prentice Women’s Hospital building now hosts the Louis A. Simpson and Kimberly K. Querrey Biomedical Research Center. As part of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, this contemporary research facility has just recently announced plans to extend its height from 320 feet to 600 feet as part of its phase 2 expansion. The tower addition will bring the total square footage to 1.2 million square feet, approximately three times the square footage of Goldberg’s original design, for reference.
Like many other installations to our series, the story of the original Prentice Women’s Hospital building again highlights the delicate balance between progress, preservation, and the evolving needs of a city. Stay tuned for more lost legends in future articles.