Breaking News: Walter Gropius Endorses Chicago’s 2016 Olympic Bid

These days pretty much every new development in Chicago gets sucked up into the city’s 2016 Olympic bid. Barack Obama becomes the first African-American president—great! That means they have to give us the Olympics. (The response from Lausanne: “Uh, not necessarily.”) Our delusional runt cowboy governor is finally sent packing, and—hooray!—we get a new one who will support the bid, just as soon as he takes care of the $9 billion state deficit and cleans up a century’s worth of entrenched political corruption. Maybe if Kayla, a brindle boxer from Wilmette, takes home first place in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, we’ll be one step closer to hosting the Games because we have good dogs in Chicago, and people all over the world like a good dog.

And now we just found out we have genuine Walter Gropius buildings that we can use to house Olympic athletes! Actually, we already knew we had some Gropiuses lying around someplace, but an enterprising student at the Illinois Institute of Technology named Grahm Balkany has uncovered some documents that seem to prove the Bauhaus founder was more involved than previously thought in the design of the South Side campus of Michael Reese Hospital (pictured at upper left, image from the Tribune story). Architectural historians have long believed that Gropius was a consulting architect on the project, which was completed in the late 1940s. Balkany found correspondence from the project stakeholders indicating that Gropius and his firm The Architects  Collaborative had direct input into design decisions into seven buildings on the campus, including the rather ghoulishly named “serum center.”

Blair Kamin reports that Preservation Chicago wants to include the Michael Reese buildings in Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics. The organization says the buildings can be used to house athletes. Plus, the campus is near a park the city’s Olympic organizing committee wants to build next to McCormick Place. All it would take to integrate the Gropius buildings into the proposed Olympic site is a few city blocks’ worth of sod.

Kamin doesn’t make it entirely clear if Preservation Chicago came up with the proposal before or after Balkany made his discovery, but I hope the organizing committee has bought into the idea and included it in its bid book, which will be unveiled to the public on Friday. And there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be: The proposal has a kind of symmetry typical of Chicago’s political culture: preservationists can use the Olympic bid to rescue a cluster of modernist wrecks in an unpicturesque portion of the city, and the Olympic organizing committee’s bid book gets a bit of continental glamor. Everybody wins.


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