by Michael R. Allen
St. Louis has a long way to go to catch up to Chicago. While our Archdiocese senselessly demolished a motel by Charles Colbert this year, Chicago city government has been working to demolish the Michael Reese Hospital campus planned and co-designed by Walter Gropius. This week, the city’s wreckers demolished the power plant shown above, which was completed in 1953 and designed by Gropius’ The Architects Collaborative. Only five buildings associated with Gropius remain out of the eight that stood earlier this year, and the landscape is ruined.
The Michael Reese campus was Gropius’ only work in Chicago. In Chicago during the twentieth century, American eyes gazed upon some of the finest modern architecture in the history of the world, from Louis Sullivan to Frank Lloyd Wright to Mies van der Rohe to Walter Gropius. As we know, the Windy City’s regard for the work of Sullivan has been spotty at best. Gropius’ work at least enjoys good company in its flagrant disregard.
While the city of Chicago is now bound by its contract with the demolition company, one wonders why the city even rushed to get into such an arrangement not knowing the outcome of its Olympics bid. Why did Alderwoman Toni Preckwinkle deign to play architectural historian and dispute the well-documented role of Gropius? Why did Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, the supposed “Green Mayor,” rush to throw away irreplaceable, internationally significant modern architecture and already-built building stock? Don’t ask. Irrational acts of destruction lack any rational explanation.