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Sharon McHugh
Sunday 30 Aug 2009

Chicago’s 2016 Olympics bid threatens Gropius landmark

Hoping to be selected as the host city for the 2016 Summer Olympics, the City of Chicago is actively planning for new facilities to accommodate the games. Those plans currently threaten a complex of post-World War II buildings on Chicago’s lakefront, the Michael Reese Hospital Campus, largely planned and co-designed by Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius. While the city would like to see the entire 37-acre site with its 29 buildings razed to make way for a new Olympic Village for athletes, some preservationist groups want to save the entire campus. With demolition partially underway, time is running out on a full-scale rescue plan, giving rise to alternative proposals that seek to partially preserve the site.

The city's proposed Olympic Village is to contain 21 new high-rise structures roughly 12 stories high. Critics of the plan oppose the wholesale razing of the site and recommend instead an alternative approach that would preserve some of the complex’s buildings. Two such plans that emerged last week, one by the advocacy group Landmarks Illinois and another by Chicago architects DeStefano Partners, aim to do just that.

The Landmarks Illinois plan calls for preserving seven of the site’s 29 buildings, eight of which are attributed to the Bauhaus master while the DeStafano plan preserves just one. While the DeStefano plan is light on preservation, both offer a far better planning approach to the site than the city’s village plan, which has been likened to the urban housing projects of the 1960s with its slab like structures lined up like dominos in rhythmic march. By comparison, the alternative proposals create lively streets, save buildings and offer a diversity of uses- important attributes if the project is to become a vibrant community beyond the Olympics.

Chicago’s 2016 officials have met with the teams behind both proposals but have declined to comment on the status of its plans. At least alternate plans are emerging and the city is still listening.

Sharon McHugh
US Correspondent

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