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 recognized the folly of this enterprise, believing in the economy and cultural life of cities. Because of that belief he wanted to create a design that would enable people to live and work downtown. That design was Marina City, a multi-building complex built on the banks of the Chicago River in downtown Chicago.
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 Marina Towers, rose up from the plaza and, as described by critic Allan Temko, supported themselves as they ascended, "lifting so slenderly that they swayed visibly in the wind. People wondered if they were unstable, but they were uncommonly strong and efficient." Even before the towers were completed 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. The second tower was completed later in the year.
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 office building and the theater building also featured unique design elements: the office building was supported with load-bearing concrete mullions and flush glazing. Heat was recycled taken from its lighting. The theater building was originally designed for live theater productions, but was ultimately constructed as studios for television, with three smaller movie theaters below. The structure is a combination of space-frames, arched beams, and sprayed concrete, covered in lead sheathing.
The project was financed with funding from the Building Maintenance Engineers Union as well as 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 union's membership over time and to use their money to build housing for them as well. 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 a "captive" population. 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. Original views across the plaza to downtown Chicago are no longer available. There has been recent interest in landmarking Marina City: ironically, this famous complex, an icon for the City of Chicago, is without protection.