Prentice Women’s Hospital

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  • building view when just completed building view when just completed
  • Prentice detail of concrete construction Prentice detail of concrete construction
  • study model of patient rooms, one and two bed types study model of patient rooms, one and two bed types
  • diagram of building organization diagram of building organization
  • floor plan floor plan
  • early massing model study early massing model study

Like many of Goldberg's previous hospital projects, this building combined a number of once separate facilities into one building combining the Chicago Maternity obstetrics and gynecology departments and the Northwestern Institute of Psychiatry. The hospital featured a rectilinear building of column and beam construction that served as the base for a quatrefoil bed tower of monolithic concrete shell construction. Unlike previous designs in which the exterior shell of the tower building was supported by columns, the shell at Prentice was completely cantilevered off the core, thus eliminating any supporting columns in the lower building and providing a column free space in the tower, allowing more planning flexibility. Because the support for the tower was in a central core, the typical conflict between the patient layout (above in the tower) and the lab/admin spaces in the base building was reduced. A promotional piece from the BGA office noted, "New in nursing care: patients are gathered in four small groups on each floor, each group with a nursing center, to provide better attention for the patient and fewer steps for the nurse and doctor."

The design work for Prentice started in 1970, and a number of alternative schemes were considered. In the end, the scheme wiht the patient quadrants and the simpler exterior form was chosen - and an innovative structural solution, featuring the cantilever of the shell building off the core was chosen. This solution relied on two remarkable things: first, on innovative structural engineering - the three dimensional curved formes required new tools to analyze their performance. BGA relied on an early use of finite element analysis, a technique that had been use in large dams and in aviation, but at that time was rarely used in architecture. Working with aviation software from Control Data, BGA's in-house computer division, Computer Services Inc. developed a way to map (and draw) the three dimensional structural analysis so that BGA's engineers could determine how it would perform. At the time, these computer techniques were in their infancy, and BGA/CSI was working at the cutting edge. Along with this, the building of Prentice benefitted from careful construction: the detail of the intersecting curved supports, clearly visible, is a testament to the precision of the contractor: cast in concrete, clearly visible, there was no fallback. There was no error - and this remarkable detail remains as one of the best ever executed by the office in any of its projects. Still visible today, it is partially obscured by an additional floor added by Northwestern.

In 1975, BGA received an award from Engineering News Record for distinguished architectural and engineering development for innovations in the Prentice Hospital structure.