“Bertrand Goldberg: Architecture of Invention” at the Art Institute of Chicago
The Marina City architect gets a 60-year retrospective.
In the 1960s, when many Americans were moving to the suburbs, Bertrand Goldberg’s design for sleek, mixed-use Marina City brought glamour back to urban living. Its iconic Chicago towers open this retrospective of the architect’s remarkable 60-year career, drawn largely from the Art Institute’s voluminous Goldberg archive.
The jazzy 1965 short film “This Is Marina City” presents Goldberg’s construction process and his material of choice: reinforced concrete. Exhibition designer John Ronan’s curved faux-concrete wall at the show’s entrance underscores the difference between the organic architecture that concrete makes possible and the rectilinear, steel-and-glass Miesian structures popular at the time.
Curiously, curators Zoë Ryan and Alison Fisher don’t discuss in detail the importance of reinforced concrete to Goldberg’s work, emphasizing instead his contributions to urban renewal and “interest in improving rather than replacing existing neighborhoods.” The remainder of the show’s first half focuses on his urban projects, including hospitals, public housing and high-rises (such as the spectacular ABC Corporate Offices, which were never realized).
The second half of “Architecture of Invention,” spanning the mid-1930s to mid-1950s, highlights Goldberg’s designs for furniture, private homes and WWII-era portable military penicillin labs and de-lousing stations. It’s somewhat frustrating that the wall text doesn’t always clearly specify which of Goldberg’s projects were actually built.
It’s also confusing to find his early career presented near the end of the exhibition. Trained at the Bauhaus in the early 1930s, Goldberg (1913–97) was one of the first practitioners of European-style modernism in the years preceding Mies’s arrival in Chicago. Placing the architect’s formative years closer to the beginning might have helped visitors better understand his highly original vision.