Bertrand Goldberg: Dans La Ville

You can find Michel Ragon’s Goldberg: Dans La Ville or On the City, online now, part of the wonderful website that has tried to collect everything available on Bertrand Goldberg and his work. The book itself in physical form is long out of print and not to be found anywhere.

Myself, I’ve wanted to find out more about Goldberg since his work first stopped me dead in my tracks on a visit to Chicago, and I heard a little about his ideas and his ideals on the river cruise tour of Chicago’s architecture:

Chicago Skyline

Here his ideals are as described by Michel Ragon in Goldberg: Dans la Ville:

To save the heart of the city to rehabilitate, repopulate. revitalize the modern city, best characterizes Bertrand Goldberg ‘s architecture. His work is completely oriented toward the problems of the modern city. It is first of all an urban architecture, a high density architecture, an act of faith in the technical, industrial and mercantile city.

Thus Ragon places him in the tradition of Louis Sullivan rather than the 2nd Chicago School —

He thereby finds himself in opposition to both of the great Chicago leaders who followed that first Chicago School: Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe. In opposition to Frank Lloyd Wright, because Wnght, by embracing Rousseau’s philosophical celebration of the American prairie pioneers is a dis-urbanist; in opposition to Mies van der Rohe, because this leader of the second Chicago School was hardly concerned with the city, setting his jewel-like glass boxes down like strange objects in an urban landscape to which they contribute no new life.

Marina City, totally contradicted Mies ‘ work. Not only by its
form, in which the curve “thumbed its nose ” at the right angle, but also by its material (concrete instead of steel). Beginning with this architectural manifesto, Bertrand Goldberg undertook a veritable crusade against box architecture, advocating the naturalist shell form over the abstraction of the parallelepiped rectangle. In Chicago, Bertrand Goldberg ‘s Marina City (1963) seems to be a reply, almost an affront, to Mies ‘s Lake Shore Drive apartments (1951). The disciple revolts. (011)

I love this quote from Goldberg about this revolt:

“I was revolting against a century of static space, against the straight line, against the idea of man made in the image of the machine. All of Mies’ drawings are identical, whether they are meant to describe a factory, a hospital, or a private home. Mies perceived architecture like an artist, and the inhabitants as people who could be folded to fit inside. Faced with the realization that modern urban planning was heading for a catastrophe, if I turned to Mies to find an answer, it seemed to me that Mies was not an urbanist, but rather an anti-urbanist. In the end I transcended the notion of Mies’ post-and-beam structures without realizing it. Moving beyond these structures was inevitable. My own structures were geocentric. For Mies what was clear was in the form, not in the function. Now what is important to me is to give clarity to the function. Mies ignored the potential of American machines which could transform the nature of materials. He was a synthetic thinker rather than an innovator.” (017)

This led him in search of very different shapes and forms, a very different architecture:

His concern for man, for man ‘s development in an architecture which would no longer be box architecture, but rather a reassuring envelope, like an egg or a womb… (012)

but the form always had very practical reasons behind it, and demanded new materials:

Goldberg abandoned steel in favour of concrete because it was
the only material which allowed him to use the shell technique, and he proposed a round architecture because the cylindrical form reduces the effects of the wind force in a very windy city. But with their sixty-five stories, the Marina City towers became the tallest building in the world using this shape and this technique. (013)

And I love how he experimented with them, using his skills and imagination to try and meet the very real needs of a world emerging from war:

In any case, from his return from the Bauhaus until the Second World War, Bertrand Goldberg produced a great number of industrializable products . He wanted to create for the masses. Son and grandson of Illinois brick-makers , he was a child of the factory and the machine. Thus he studied the prefabrication of steel furniture, bathrooms , kitchens, and homes. He was completely absorbed by individual procedures and their applications to architecture. He designed prototypes for prefabricated houses with the aeronautic industry during the war. He also designed armament containers which could be transformed into housing once they reached Europe. (015)

3. A view of a unit bathroom appliance which contained a bathtub, shower, lavatory, water closet and plumbing. 4. A view of the shower fixture which was pivoted to permit a variety of uses. 5. A view of bathing a small child in the lavatory basin. 6. A view of the lavatory which was pivoted to swing either over the bathtub or over the water closet. Goldberg: Dans la Ville
3. A view of a unit bathroom appliance which contained a bathtub, shower, lavatory, water closet and plumbing. 4. A view of the shower fixture which was pivoted to permit a variety of uses. 5. A view of bathing a small child in the lavatory basin. 6. A view of the lavatory which was pivoted to swing either over the bathtub or over the water closet.

Out of this developed a new kind of architectural philosophy

A space created by a force (an egg) is different from one created by an intellectual concept (a box). The egg, the womb, the bee hive are forms which were brought about by forces. This leads Goldberg , through a paraphrase of the famous slogan “Form follows function” used by all proponents of functionalism, from Sullivan to Le Corbusier, passing through the Bauhaus, of course, to declare “Function creates form.” Thus the forces of structures more than the shapes of structures are what guide Bertrand Goldberg’s quest. And for a compact and complex architecture forming the equivalent of a neighborhood or a small city, this multiplication of forces and their interconnection are what must be taken into account. “When you create a building, says Goldberg , “you think of a structure, but when you create a community, you think of a series of forces reacting with each other.”

5. A view of the concrete balconies in the Marina City residential towers. Every habitable room in the towers opens onto a balcony. 6. The steel frame supporting the sprayed concrete lead-sheeted roof of the theater building. 7. The circular parking structure and the beginning of the apartment levels which both surround the already completed core structure. 8. Schematic floor plan of the structure of the apartment buildings. Goldberg: Dans la Ville
5. A view of the concrete balconies in the Marina City residential towers. Every habitable room in the towers opens onto a balcony. 6. The steel frame supporting the sprayed concrete lead-sheeted roof of the theater building. 7. The circular parking structure and the beginning of the apartment levels which both surround the already completed core structure. 8. Schematic floor plan of the structure of the apartment buildings.

So he thought about buildings in terms of forces and their relationships with each other, and this emerged out of a detailed observation of the forces that would be contained within his buildings:

Bertrand Goldberg ‘s architectural philosophy has been particularly useful as it is expressed in his hospitals: he never regarded a hospital as a building, but rather as an ensemble of social relations and functions for which architecture was supposed to be the graphic illustration. Bertrand Goldberg always devotes himself to a scientific study of the patterns of life in those settings he is responsible for designing. In hospitals the medical systems impose numerous restrictions on the architect which he must translate into architectonic shapes.

Health Sciences Centre -- State University of New York, Stony Brook. Goldberg: Dans la Ville
Health Sciences Center — State University of New York, Stony Brook

 

View of the complexe comprising the obstetrical and gynecological departments and the Institute of Psychiatry of the Medical Faculty of North Western University. The concept of a bed-tower rising above a base building housing the support services has been used in many of Bertrand Goldberg's hospital projects. The Prentice Hospital has solved the structural conflict between bed-tower and base columnar patterns by an engineering breakthrough : the first fully cantilevered high-rise shell. The base building rests on traditional concrete columns. Goldberg: Dans la Ville
View of the complexe comprising the obstetrical and gynecological departments and the Institute of Psychiatry of the Medical Faculty of North Western University. The concept of a bed-tower rising above a base building housing the support services has been used in many of Bertrand Goldberg’s hospital projects. The Prentice Hospital has solved the structural conflict between bed-tower and base columnar patterns by an engineering breakthrough: the first fully cantilevered high-rise shell. The base building rests on traditional concrete columns.

 

St Joseph's Hospital, Tacoma, with a schematic plan of the design for the surgical rooms. Goldberg: Dans la Ville
St Joseph’s Hospital, Tacoma, with a schematic plan of the design for the surgical rooms.

This concern for community, for human beings and their needs translated into a concern about the health of cities as a whole.

“The hard core of urban planning,” observes Bertrand Goldberg further “is people.” That means the users of architecture, the users of the city. (019)

2. Children use the public areas between the elderly and family buildings. The site plan was designed to promote the participation of the elderly residents in the activities of the children. Goldberg: Dans la Ville
Raymond Hilliard Center — Children use the public areas between the elderly and family buildings. The site plan was designed to promote the participation of the elderly residents in the activities of the children.

The following thoughts fascinate me as the phenomenon of white flight connected to capitalism’s spatial fix (the subject of my thesis after all) is here looked at so superficially, as a natural phenomenon almost, and an attempt made to save the central city by providing what they believe people seem to be in search of…They were in the middle of it after all, and I cannot help but applaud the effort and the unwillingness to accept the movement of whites and resources to the suburbs.

All large American cities saw their central population moving out to the expanding suburbs around their periphery. Chicago was no exception. Lewis Mumford spoke of modern cities in terms of “necropolis,” and Mc Luhan in Understanding Media (1964), affirmed that he was a resolute dis-urbanist. And Gutkind in The Twilight of Cities (1962), revived the thesis of the dispersion of living so dear to Frank Lloyd Wright, and declared ” Cities as we know them cannot survive’.’

Bertrand Goldberg observed the same exodus, but his conclusion was completely different. The sclerosis of downtown areas seemed to him to be a warning symbol of agony of a humanistic culture which he therefore intended to defend. To the originality of its round form Marina City added the much greater originality of creating , in two vertical blocks, a mini-city in which living, work, and recreation would mingle as they had done formerly in traditional cities. By situating his two towers on the bank of the Chicago River, Bertrand Goldberg was reconnecting symbolically with the old theme of water as a factor in urban animation. And since transportation and communication have become key words in contemporary life, he grafted his two apartment towers onto a port for boats and a garage for cars. Thus these two buildings were directly linked to the river, to Lake Michigan, and to the street. They didn’t constitute a privileged island in an amorphous center, but rather a kind of radiator (doesn’t their shape suggest a car radiator more than the ears of corn with which they are often compared?) which was to heat up lukewarm urban life. (012)

Ragon asks him this question  — ‘So why persist, then, in believing in the city as a moral and spiritual value?’ He answers:

“Because…people need to communicate personally with each other. This is a primitive instinct which architecture must understand, even if governments don ‘t always understand.” For,” says Goldberg, “communication makes community’.’

After communication , there is a second word which recurs the most often in his speech: community. (018)

This focus means he saw things very differently from most planners and architects of his time — the same ones we now excoriate (or some of us do anyway) for a nightmare of unsustainable sprawl and toxic and segregated lifestyles. This means he is a very interesting figure to return to in thinking about how we reimagine our cities, especially in light of energy descent:

Contrary to the urban planning tendency which favors the suburbs and decentralizes the city, Bertrand Goldberg believes that urban life will only be improved by increasing the population density. Denser urban communities would make it possible to finance public transportation , to develop high-technology companies, to offer an intense cultural life, and to economize energy resources. High density urban design would also make it possible to reduce the costs of housing and to lower rent prices…(018)

“A city can no longer afford the burden of buildings which are only used thirty-five hours a week,” adds Goldberg. “Spatial urban planning must therefore be multifunctional, and as open, as mobile, as possible. Cities, if they are not to wallow in perpetual budget deficits, must function all day long, spreading their operating costs among commerce, education, housing, leisure activity, and high-tech industries.” (019)

I’m not sure that density is in fact any more sustainable than other models on this scale, though Ragon states that:

In any case, Marina City demonstrated that a high population density in a well thought-out space didn’t cause any problems . The nine hundred families at Marina City, who form one of the most dense populations in the western world, live in perfect harmony. The rooms which expand from the center of the tower toward the outside give the impression of being larger than they actually are. And in summer, the barbecues on the balconies create the congenial feeling of an Indian camp . (012)

But there was a whole movement of tower blocks and megastructures that has to some extent been discounted these days. That said, I think many would still jump at the chance to actually live in one of Goldberg’s buildings:

And since we are discussing architectural futurology , Bertrand Goldberg ‘s work since 1959 illustrates another one of its notions: the megastructure, although he never uses this term, neither in his conversation nor in his numerous writings. Bringing together all the functions of a neighborhood in one architectural unit, conceiving thick buildings that reduce energy consumption , breaking down the classic skyscaper with buildings linked by horizontal as well as vertical passageways, moving in some way toward a spatial urban design : these are some of the advantages of the megastructure. But Bertrand Goldberg never uses the term “megastructure,” because he is wary of it. For him, megastructures like those proposed by the futurology of the sixties are too large. He prefers, as in his Stony Brook building , to separate the megastructure into sections and create focal points so that people can orient themselves and form clusters of activity. (014)

Goldberg: Dans la Ville
A view of the office building supported above its base structure. The base floor of the office building contains a recreational bowling its base structure. The base floor of the office building contains a recreational bowling alley and commercial retail space. The roof of the base is a recreational terrace for the office employees. The ten floors of office space are supported on a transfer system created by the columns.

Interesting that this also began in a way with Louis Sullivan here in Chicago:

In the tone of Bertrand Goldberg ‘s writings and in their philosophy there is an evident kinship with Sullivan, even with the mixed-use building which Louis Sullivan undertook as his first influential work. The Chicago Auditorium Building (1886-1889), a gigantic architectural complex , included an auditorium, meeting rooms, offices, and a hotel. And the skyscrapers were of course the first stage in this history of three-dimensional urban design which Bertrand Goldberg fully intends to bring to a new, influential form, moving from the static to the kinetic. (020)

Goldberg: Dans la Ville
Louis Sullivan – Auditorium theater. Chicago, Illinois, 1889.

There is also in both an idea of community and democracy that became centered in Chicago’s architectural traditions:

Like the poet Walt Whitman, who united the machine and democracy in his songs. Sullivan believed that from industrial society a profoundly democratic society would be born; the Chicago School became one of the first artistic expressions. And his disciple Frank Lloyd Wright, like him, bestowed a moral mission on architecture, proclaiming democratic convictions which his architecture was supposed to help propagate and consolidate.

There is much more here, particularly in Goldberg’s two essays that have been included and that I think I just might look at separately.

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