Almost razed by urban planners, Chicago’s historic 1914 hospital gets a beautiful $140 million transit-oriented, mixed-use rebirth

Completed in 1914 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Cook County Hospital building is the symbolic heart of the Illinois Medical District, a healthcare innovation community located on Chicago’s West Side.

Architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)—in collaboration with Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.—is just about finished adapting the former hospital to meet the changing needs of the neighborhood, while preserving and restoring its historic architectural features.

As the Illinois Medical District expanded through the 1990s, the hospital was left vacant and ultimately closed in 2002.

In 2018, the Civic Health Development Group formed a plan to energize the neighborhood by reestablishing the building as a vibrant, mixed-use, transit-focused development. The 350,000-square-foot adaptive reuse project will feature retail and office space, as well as 210 Hyatt hotel rooms.

The architectural features and materials of the Cook County Hospital building will be carefully restored and preserved, including the original Beaux-Arts style masonry and wood-framed windows. The adaptive reuse design includes a new facade for the unornamented southern face of the hospital. A museum will be established on site to showcase the history of the building.

The renovation and reinvention of the old Cook County Hospital is a triumph of historic preservation, one that should resonate far beyond the walls of the beloved Beaux-Arts landmark.

Not only does it give new life to an ornate, more-is-more work of architecture that Cook County leaders, unconscionably, had in their demolition crosshairs 17 years ago.

It preserves a powerful symbol of compassionate care for the poor, serendipitously coming amid a pandemic that has seen doctors, nurses and other medical professionals battle heroically against the deadly coronavirus.

The project is the anchor of a much-needed, multiphase $1 billion redevelopment that promises to enliven Chicago’s vast but dull Illinois Medical District with new housing, offices and restaurants.

The biggest part of the $140 million hospital revamp, a Hyatt Place hotel and an extended-stay Hyatt House, is scheduled to open July 1. An eight-station food hall is expected to debut Aug. 1, though the state’s coronavirus restrictions could delay that. Cook County medical offices likely will open later in August.

Images courtesy of SOM.

See Blair Kamin’s full article in the May 22, 2020 issue of the Chicago Tribune.

See SOM website.

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