Northwestern Gets an Earful About the Latest Design For its Prentice Replacement

The trouble with replacing an iconic, historic building is, well, nothing else quite measures up, unless it, too, is iconic and historic. The trouble with that premise is, you don’t always know how history will judge an architectural design.

Northwestern University Medical Research CenterIt’s also the challenge faced by Perkins+Will when it won the competition to create the new Northwestern University Medical Research Center (MRC2) in Streeterville. It’s on the property where the beloved Prentice Hospital once stood.

Comments about the design of MRC2 were fired at Bridget Lesniak, managing principal at P+W, during a community meeting in the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Building Tuesday evening. Few of the Streeterville locals found much about the design to celebrate. Lesniak fielded far more darts than laurels.

A sample of the questions included:

  • The legacy of the building: ”Will it look very dated in 50 years?” Lesniak said no, P+W is going for a contemporary, modern design.
  • The color of the glass: “Will it look monolithic?” Lesniak explained that the team is still working to finalize this.
  • The asthetics of the rooftop exhaust system: “Will it be quiet and attractive?” Lesniak assured the audience that it would, and P+W is working with an engineering consultant that uses a wind tunnel to test the exhaust impact.

Northwestern University Medical Research CenterOther residents fretted about traffic, the streetscape, what will happen to the trees during the winter (nature generally handles that task, allowing four or five months of dormancy).

One resident ventured that the final design Lesniak shared was actually worse than the original concept, which won P+W the competition to get the design contract.

“We were told we’d be getting something timeless and unique,” the resident said. “This isn’t unique in any way. When it was shortened, it took away from the design. It had a boldness to it previously. Now it’s shorter, squatter, and really nothing special now. Aside from glass, what are you doing to make it a landmark? We tore down a landmark building. I don’t see one here.”

Northwestern University Medical Research CenterIn fact, the final design is shorter than the original. The 598-foot tall building is about six stories lower than the design first proposed by P+W. Most of the renderings revealed not much different in the basic design, but rather the details. Glass is still the primary material one will see, inside and out.

There will be nine lab floors, which according to Lesniak, “are all about light and transparency.”

Refinements included a number of columns added to the entry lobby. Otherwise, most of the interior renderings mirrored the original design.

The folks in Streeterville like to have a say in the design of their neighboring buildings, and this wasn’t the first time they weighed in on MRC2. After the initial P+W design, residents spoke their minds. Tonight’s meeting was round two.

After the design is finalized, construction of phase 1 of MRC2 is planned for early 2015, with occupancy by 2018. The schedule for construction of phase 2 (the tower) is undetermined, pending funding.

Location: 333 East Superior Street, Streeterville


Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at

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