We don’t normally cover Chicago architecture and landscape issues in any depth on this blog, given that a) we’re nowhere near experts on the subject and b) the city has several stellar architecture journalists reporting on the scene and blogging daily about it. But when I saw the pictures below, my eyes literally hurt. My soul did too.

Pfaelzer Park North

Pfaelzer Park North

Pfaelzer Park West

Pfaelzer Park West

Rothschild Park Southeast

Rothschild Park Southeast

These are before and after pictures of the Michael Reese Hospital campus in the Bronzeville area of South Chicago, much of whose landscaping was clear cut this month, ostensibly to make way for a possible future Olympic Village site (and, after the Olympics are over, some form of mixed income housing). Of course, we haven’t even secured the 2016 games yet, and there’s no guarantee that we will — but the City has moved forward anyway. The result? A park that was once lush, green and peaceful has been literally scraped off the face of the earth.

The images posted above are taken from the Gropius in Chicago Coalition website, which issued a statement yesterday on the park’s destruction. An excerpt:

In an act of cultural and environmental violence that has shocked the South Side, the City of Chicago and the Chicago 2016 Bid Committee have destroyed the beloved central parklands at Michael Reese Hospital. Sparing only a few trees, the community parks have been “clear cut.” Hundreds of trees have been killed, and all shrubbery, flowers, and ground cover has been scraped from the site. The new scorched earth setting, carefully masked from the surefire embarrassment of public scrutiny behind a thin veil of preserved vegetation and construction fencing, is a shock to all who have known and loved the campus in its original state. The landscapes at Michael Reese were designed by Hideo Sasaki (of Sasaki + Novak, later Sasaki Walker), and Lester Collins, two of America’s premiere landscape architects. The landscape designers both worked closely with Walter Gropius and his associates at The Architects Collaborative to develop the landscapes in keeping with Gropius’ architecture and site planning theories. Prominent Art and architecture Critic Lynn Becker has called these settings “some of the most beautiful landscapes in the city.” (Read the full statement by clicking here).

What’s worse, the destruction won’t necessarily end with the flattening of the campus’ landscape. The Hospital buildings, which were co-designed by famed Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius, may also be demolished.

Tomorrow, August 6th, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks will meet to consider “whether to recommend to the Illinois Historic Advisory Council whether the campus should be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places,” Blair Kamin reported yesterday in his Cityscapes blog for the Tribune. “If the campus were given National Register status,” Kamin notes, “it would mean that state historic preservation officials would be called in before federal funds could be used for demolition” of the buildings.

The Gropius Coalition has also put out an urgent call for Chicagoans who are invested in this issue to attend a critical community meeting next Tuesday August 11th. The meeting will cover the 2016 Olympic plans for the 3rd, 4th, and 20th wards (which contain Michael Reese Hospital) and will take place at the Chicago Urban League, 4510 S. Michigan Avenue at 6:00 pm. The Coalition organizers note that

Alderman Preckwinkle specifically stated in an earlier meeting that the August 11 meeting is the preferred forum for Chicago residents to voice their concerns about Michael Reese Hospital. A large turn out is essential, so please encourage your friends and family to participate! This may be one of our best chances to make an impact to the 2016 Olympic Committee. Remember that demolition is proceeding and without our support, the campus may not survive even until the IOC vote in October.

If you’re not already up to speed on the issue, here are a few more links to get you going, starting with Ben Joravsky’s article in the Chicago Reader illuminating the political angle of this debacle. The article’s headline suggests that the fate of Michael Reese Hospital “is just a taste of how the Olympics will drive public policy if Chicago wins the games.” Read Joravsky’s reportage and analysis for the Chicago Reader here: Michael Reese Hospital: The First Sacrificial Lamb; it’s critical to understanding the full ramifications of this issue.

Chicago architecture bloggers Lynn Becker and Edward Lifson have also been following the story; two links follow below:

Tonight: Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Scorched Earth Obsession About to Obliterate Michael Reese?

Going, Going, Gone? Will Chicago Tear Down Buildings by Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius?

Claudine Isé

Claudine Isé has worked in the field of contemporary art as a writer and curator for the past decade, and currently serves as the Editor of the Art21 Blog. Claudine regularly writes for Artforum.com and Chicago magazine, and has also worked as an art critic for the Los Angeles Times. Before moving to Chicago in 2008, she worked at the Wexner Center in Columbus, OH as associate curator of exhibitions, and at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles as assistant curator of contemporary art, where she curated a number of Hammer Projects. She has Ph.D. in Film, Literature and Culture from the University of Southern California.