Thomas ReillyJanuary 17, 2017Advanced Geometry Architecture PaperMarina City in Chicago, IL Located on the northern bank of the Chicago River in downtown Chicago, Marina City was first and foremost a social experiment. Built in the early 1960s by Bertrand Goldberg, it was the first building in the United States to include both housing and businesses. The building’s two iconic towers were the tallest apartment buildings in the world and at one point were the tallest structures made of reinforced concrete on Earth. Marina City was built at a cost of $36 million, or $288 million by present standards.
The purpose behind the creation of Marina City was to reverse the pattern of flight from downtown Chicago. Following World War II, millions of Americans began to migrate away from the populated downtown of cities and into the suburbs. As more and more people fled the city, Chicago’s nightlife and weekend activity quickly vanished, and the city became populated only during the working hours. Urban construction declined and stagnated, and the federal government began to focus its funding on the suburbs. This relocation posed a threat to the Building Service Employees International Union, now known as the Service Employees International Union, whose members would likely be unable to find jobs in the suburbs.
The president of the Union, William L. McFetridge, sought to persuade people to live in downtown Chicago to maintain the central business district. McFetridge decided to invest his union’s pension fund in housing for working people. McFetridge contacted Bertrand Goldberg Associates, and Bertrand Goldberg took on the project. The original idea for Marina City differed slightly from the finished product. The plans for Marina City described it as a four-building complex comprised of two 40-story rectangular towers each containing 560 apartments, a ten-story office tower, and a four-story building with parking for 400 cars and 1,000 boats. However, the rectangular towers would have created a footprint too large for the site, so Goldberg was forced to change his design. He soon proposed a second design in which the two towers contained 65 stories instead of 40 and were round instead of rectangular.
The theater, originally designed for live productions, was later constructed as television studies with three smaller movie theaters below. The apartments were eventually sold as condominiums, and the office building was developed into a hotel. Initially expected to cost $25 million, the final product was in actuality closer to $36 million.Marina City was designed to be a “City within a City”. The complex contained offices, restaurants, a theater and assembly hall, shops, a swimming pool, a bowling alley, an ice skating rink, and a three-acre park. The goal was to create a building that offered residents the comfortable housing of suburbs but also included the easy commute of living downtown.
Marina City had it all: residential, commercial, and recreational. It was a 24-hour complex with functions that sustained one another and so required full-time residents to remain financially possible. The popularity of the idea for the building complex was evident from the beginning. Within 48 hours of the announcement of the project, over 200 apartments had been requested, and McFetridge planned to attempt similar ventures in other cities down the road, including New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Cleveland, Denver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Before construction was completed, Marina City had over 3,500 applications from prospective tenants. In 1962, tenants began to move into the first tower before the second had even been finished, which occured the following year. The office building became occupied in 1965, and the theater began use in 1967.
By the time of its completion in 1968, Marina City was a fully functioning housing and office complex in the heart of downtown Chicago.Marina City is renowned for the numerous innovations featured in its construction and design. The building was the first major use of slip-form construction and employed the first tower crane used in the United States.
On each residential floor, the elevator shaft is surrounded by a circular hallway with sixteen units spaced evenly around the floor. Each apartment contains a balcony and nearly zero interior right angles. The apartments run solely on electricity and have no need for natural gas or propane. Each unit contains individual heating and cooling units, which contradicts the common practice of construction in the 1950s and 1960s in which one central source is used for heating and cooling. The elevators are noted for their high speeds and can travel the 61 stories from ground to roof in almost 30 seconds. In 1965, Marina City’s two towers were awarded a prize in innovation by the American Institute of Architects.
The towers of Marina City are a Chicago icon, and have consequently made a number of appearances in media and popular culture. The towers can be found on the front cover of the 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco and the rear cover of the 1971 Sly and the Family Stone album There’s a Riot Goin’ On. The towers are featured in the 1970s and 1980s Mercury Records label design and are used as a backdrop in the Nickelback music video for “Rockstar”. Marina City has also made appearances in television shows such as The Bob Newhart Show, Three the Hard Way, The Hunter, and Knight Rider, as well as films including Nothing in Common, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Break-Up, The Dark Knight, and Wanted.
Marina City in Chicago began as an experiment to draw Americans back to downtown Chicago. The project was met with support and excitement, and enjoyed great success as its own “City within a City”. Despite the many changes that Marina City endured both during and after construction, the building featured innovation in both its construction and planning. Marina City’s unique design remains a part of pop culture, and its iconic towers symbolize the renewal of urban life in one of America’s most populous cities.BibliographyDahlman, Steven. “Marina City – History.
” Marina City – History – Home, Marina City, 4 July 2007, www.marinacity.org/history.htm.Goldberg, Geoffrey. “Bertrand Goldberg.” Bertrand Goldberg | Marina City, bertrandgoldberg.
org/projects/marina-city/. “Marina City.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Jan. 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marina_City.