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Friday, November 12, 2010

Book Review: Marina City

Marina City: Bertrand Goldberg's Urban Vision by Igor Marjanovic and Katerina Rüedi Ray
Princeton Architectural Press, 2010
Paperback, 176 pages

Last week I reviewed a book on Frank Lloyd Wright's SC Johnson Tower in Racine, Wisconsin. Fifteen stories tall, it is constructed like a tree, with floors cantilevering from a concrete core. In theory Betrand Goldberg's Marina City towers in Chicago are akin to Wright's earlier design, as Goldberg intended the "corn cobs" to built in the same manner. Even though the pair were built with exterior columns, they are so well integrated into the scalloped balconies that their expression between the residences and the parking garage below is what gives them away, as ones eyes move from the top of the towers to their bases and the rest of the project.

But let me backtrack, as I think I'm getting into too much detail too soon. Yet it's hard, because there is so much to talk about with Marina City, be it the towers, the project as a whole, or the individual pieces (towers, theater, office slab, commercial podium). Associations are myriad, be they architectural, as above, or even personal: my parents met at the bowling alley in the base of the office slab; I bowled in a league at the same alley; I attended a concert with my future wife in the theater (it was a Dance Hall Crashers show). Igor Marjanovic and Katerina Rüedi Ray have put together a comprehensive account of one of the most beloved buildings in Chicago, a book that may not be as accessible to a general audience as the one Wright's tower, but for those seriously interested in how Marina City was developed, built, and used the media to become what it is today, this is a must-have.

After a fictional account of the building in its early days, the authors give background on Goldberg's education, work experience, and travels; they then delve into the different parts of the project in detail, everything from the tower floor plans and interiors to the commercial podium with its sunken skating rink (gone, now an ugly chophouse at odds with the rest of the project); after that is detail on the structure of the project as it evolved throughout the project; following is perhaps the book's most important chapter, "the deal," or how it happened via the intersection of public and private interests and labor unions; chapter five illustrates how the architect and other players used the media to "construct" the building; finally the duo discuss the building's reception, after completion and decades later. Thorough, yes, but understandably so. Marina City is a project that deserves a well-researched, academic case study, and this heavily illustrated one does it beautifully.


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