Marina City

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  • View to northwest of Marina City. View to northwest of Marina City.
  • Model at Aspen Conference, 1962. Model at Aspen Conference, 1962.
  • Site plan of Marina City. Site plan of Marina City.
  • Base of office building. Base of office building.
  • View of Marina City looking east. View of Marina City looking east.
  • View of office building curtain wall. View of office building curtain wall.
  • Marina Towers under construction. Marina Towers under construction.
  • Model on display at Chicago City Hall? Model on display at Chicago City Hall?
  • Full-scale model of apartment. Full-scale model of apartment.

Marina City was never a contemporary style of building in my mind. It was a development, a technological... and aesthetic wringing out of a concept which had a considerable amount of reason for its existenceOral History

In the decades following World War II, millions of Americans fled to the suburbs, vacating downtowns and spilling out into office parks and tract houses. Goldberg was a believer in the economy and cultural life of cities and  wanted to create a place that would enable people to live and work downtown. The result  was Marina City, a multi-building complex built on the banks of the Chicago River in downtown Chicago.

Marina City consists of 5 buildings - two residential towers, an office building (now a hotel), theater building and a large base structure upon which the buildings are sited. The residential towers included twenty lower floors of ramped parking and forty floors of apartments. The apartments were built for economy, with large windows and balconies to enhance the views. Based on a "pie-shaped" layout, there was a gentle flaring in the layouts directing the viewer to the outdoors views. Prior to construction, full-size mockups were made of both the apartments and the office building, allowing people to test the designs. An intriguing blend of sculpture and structure, the round, "corn-cob" shaped apartment buildings, the towers rose from the plaza and, as described by critic Allan Temko, supported themselves as they ascended, "uncommonly strong and efficient." Even before completion there were 3,500 applications from prospective tenants hoping to rent one of the coveted apartments. The first apartment tower was finished in 1962 and eager tenants moved in while the second tower was still going up, completed in 1963.

Marina City included some 900 residential apartments as well as many varieties of commercial real estate. Intended to be a "City within a City", Marina City included a 16-story commercial office building, theaters, restaurants, recreational spaces (bowling alleys, pools), an ice skating rink and a marina with extensive boat storage capacity. The project featured numerous design and construction innovations. It was the first major use of slip-form construction, and the construction of Marina City was widely watched and admired. At the time of their completion, the Marina Towers were not only the tallest apartment buildings in the world but also the tallest reinforced concrete buildings. The structure for the towers and the theater was by the creative engineer Hannskarl Bandel of Fred Severud in NY, who also worked on Saarinen's St. Louis Arch.

The office building occupied in 1965, and the theater in 1967. These two lesser-known buildings also featured unique design and structural solutions: the office building was  largely exoskeletal, supported with continuous, uniquely-shaped load-bearing concrete mullions. Heat was recycled energy, taken from its lighting. The structural transition at the 5th floor, just above the bowling alley below, featured gothic-shaped vaults, with some of the most interesting concrete forms of the project. It is likely that the office building structure was designed by the engineer Frank Kornacker, responsible for the engineering of Mies' Crown Hall and 860 Lake Shore Drive, and who was in Goldberg's office in the early 1960s.

The theater building was originally designed for live theater productions, but was ultimately constructed as studios for television, with three smaller movie theaters below. Due to the project phasing, space for the theater structure was quite restricted. Large arches of steel beams was covered with a smaller scale triangular-shaped structural grid shaped like a saddle; this was then sprayed with concrete, and clad in lead sheathing for sound isolation. The large internal space was used as a TV studio for many years, converted to a theater for the House of Blues, the current users of the space.

The project was financed with funding from the Building Maintenance Engineers Union and three other unions. Originally commissioned by the Chicago Janitor's Union to design a new office building for their headquarters, Goldberg convinced the president of the Union, William McFetridge, to consider the needs of his membership over time and to build housing for them. At Marina City, Goldberg envisioned a "city within a city," a 24-hour-a-day complex where differing functions reinforced one another and sustained one another. Services in the complex could not be supported by a commuting population in order to make them financially feasible, they needed full-time residents. As stated by Goldberg, "we cannot burden either business with buildings used thirty-five hours a week or apartment buildings used only at night or on the weekends, with our tax loads. We can no longer subsidize the kind of planning that enjoys only the single-use of our expensive city utilities. In our 'cities within cities' we shall turn our streets up into the air, and stack the daytime and nighttime use of our land."

Over the years, the ownership of Marina City has changed: the apartments were sold as condominiums, and the commercial real estate was redeveloped into a hotel and other entertainment venues. The ice-skating rink was replaced with a restaurant structure and the original large curved glass walls under the theater building, which encouraged views across the plaza to downtown Chicago, have been lost. Marina City has recently been landmarked.