Razing Reese

Green reasons to join Olympic Village fight

The planned demolition of Michael Reese hospital for an Olympic village continues to accrue opposition.

Today's outcry comes from Chicago architectecture blogger Lynn Becker, who pens a piece for the Reader outlining why "the city's plan to tear down Michael Reese Hospital is bad for architecture, bad for history, and bad for the environment."

Becker argues that preservationists aren't the only ones who should be upset about the city's plans for Reese. Environmentalists should be upse too.

"Simply put," Becker writes, "you can’t call yourself a 'green' mayor if you throw buildings away as if they were gum wrappers . . . As any architect concerned about sustainability will tell you, the greenest building isn’t the shiny new one but the one whose reuse makes new construction unnecessary."

Becker notes the irony of Mayor Richard M. Daley receiving a sustainability award within a month of the scheduled start of demolition at Reese.

"That a 'green' mayor would propose such a plan seems unbelievable until you realize that the same cavalier wastefulness runs throughout the city’s plan for 2016, which is topped off with a 80,000-seat, $400 million (believe me, it will cost more) stadium that will be used for all of several weeks and then be reduced to a 10,000-seat amphitheater."

The city says it will save the main administration building at Reese as a sop to preservationists, but Becker isn't so sure.

"A spokeswoman was in full spin mode as she insisted to Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin that it would be 'incredibly misleading to characterize' the city’s request for bid proposals as evidence of a planned “demo of every single building.' The actual document, however, is unambiguous, calling for “the demolition and abatement of the structures on the Michael Reese Hospital campus” and noting that 'the campus includes 29 structures totaling approximately 1.6 million square feet'."

Kamin wrote on his Skyline blog this week that the Reese demolition was just the latest example of the Chicago Way.

"First, dinner with Oprah. Then, the dirty work," Kamin says. "You wine and dine the International Olympic Committee's inspection team at an Art Institute soiree with the queen of daytime talk.

"Then, when they're gone, you invite contractors to rev up the bulldozers and tear down all but one of the buildings on the Michael Reese Hospital campus, where you want to build an Olympic Village."

And even that one building has to be considered in jeopardy.

Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review.

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