The Pitfalls of Preserving Architecture

At one point, the Brown Line of the Chicago “L” had numerous ads urging riders to do something to save Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital, which used to be part of Northwestern Memorial. This bothered me for the following reasons:

1). Northwestern said that they can’t use the building.
2). There are other Goldberg buildings or Goldberg-inspired buildings in Chicago that look very similar.
3). The new Rush University Medical Center looks like a nicer, greener version of the old Prentice.
4). I never saw any sort of ad campaign pushing for Michael Reese Hospital to be saved.

The fourth point I list needs a bit of background. When I moved to Chicago in 2009, after Michael Reese Hospital had finished completely closing, it had been decided that the site would become an Olympic Village if Chicago got to host the 2016 Olympics. Of course, Chicago did not get to host the 2016 Olympics. Prior to that, someone could have said, “Why bulldoze this old hospital when you could build it elsewhere? Isn’t this an architectural asset to the city?”

And no one seems to have done so.

The Michael Reese Hospital campus was a mixture of classical architecture and more modern architecture. Part of the campus was designed by Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus School. (One of the buildings can be found on Flickr.) The Bauhaus school believed very much in less being more and experimenting.

Then again, my argument that I applied to the old Prentice Hospital could be applied to Michael Reese. After the closure of the Bauhaus School, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe left Germany in 1937 and relocated to America and eventually came to Chicago. While in America, Van Der Rohe designed several buildings in Chicago including the chapel, Alumni Hall and Crown Hall of the IIT campus, the IBM Plaza, the Loop post office and 860-880 Lake Shore Drive. The argument can be made that since there are plenty of buildings designed by Mies Van Der Rohe, Chicago didn’t need to save Gropius’ buildings.

The difference is that the Michael Reese campus had a combination of two different architecture styles that you don’t see outside of the UIC Campus, and the brutalist buildings are separated from the Beaux Arts buildings by several blocks. Often the combination of two different architectural styles happens on accident, but it managed to work with the Michael Reese Campus.

But then the question comes in about what would have happened if the buildings had been saved. Would it have sat empty for years? A possible problem with preservation of architecture is that the future use seems to be forgotten. One of my favorite buildings in Chicago, Cook County Hospital, was saved from demolition. However, the Cook County Hospital sits empty on Harrison Street, continuing to decay because the county has no money to do anything with it. A long abandoned hospital in my neighborhood has sat empty for years and preservationists want to save it. Currently, it apparently is posing a safety risk to residents, based on emails from my alderman, and creeps me out every time I go down Montrose.

On a different note, Edgewater Medical Center, which no one is clamoring to save, has sat empty for 11 years while it’s debated as to what should happen to the site. One group, which I met at Midsommarfest, would like for it to be turned into a park. Others would like condos. This argument has been going on since I moved to Chicago.

Perhaps Prentice should be saved. But if it weren’t demolished, what would be done with the hospital? Would it just sit empty like Cook County Hospital and Edgewater Medical Center? In the meantime, the question remains as to what makes the hospital worth saving. Is it because it was designed by Goldberg? Or is it because of how Goldberg designed it?

The Great ’90s Animated Film Project: “The Lion King” (1994)

The Swan Princess,
The Hunchback of Notre Dame,
The Prince of Egypt,
Quest for Camelot,
The Iron Giant
The King and I

The final post of The Great ’90s Animated Film Project happened accidentally as “The Lion King” aired on Saturday night on ABC Family. Having not seen it in a while, I curled up on the loveseat of my mother’s house and my cat, Polo, joined me shortly afterward.

For the few of you that might not know of “The Lion King”‘s plot, the film follows a tribe of lions headed by Mufasa (JAMES EARL JONES) and he and his wife Sarabi have just had a male cub named Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas as young Simba, Matthew Broderick as adult Simba). This means that Mufasa’s brother Scar (a terrific performance by Jeremy Irons) is angry because he isn’t next in line. He then kills Mufasa, convince Simba that he’s the reason the king is dead. Simba is then presumed dead, but then raised by a warthog named Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) and a meercat named Timon (Nathan Lane) before he can take his place in the world again.

Oddly enough “The Lion King” seems to be the one animated film from this period that Disney made that doesn’t hold up well with time. One of the main problems is the structure because if “The Lion King” is treated as a work in three acts, it has a huge problem with having a third act that only serves the purpose of introducing us to the characters of Timon and Pumbaa, whose only real purposes are to be annoying sidekicks and save Simba from death after exile. If you skip over that act, there really doesn’t seem to much lost in the film.

The reason why “The Lion King” is included in this project is because it is apparently based off of “Hamlet,” but very loosely. Additionally, there are some influences of Greek tragedy as we see Scar in many ways seem to be a tragic hero who ultimately ends up falling after usurping Mufasa.

Which brings me to another problem with the movie: Simba is the least interesting protagonist to ever appear in a Disney movie. After being kicked out of the Pride Lands, he pretty much behaves like an apathetic teenager. This means that the antagonist, Scar, is a much more interesting character, although this is probably helped by Irons’ terrific vocal performance. What is more interesting is that the film shows that Scar’s decision to disrupt the balance in the Pride Lands by killing Mufasa results in a disruption of the ecosystem by the hyenas having free range over hunting. Although this really wasn’t a concept I understood until watching “The Wild Thornberrys,” the filmmakers decided to show the environmental impact of this change in leadership.

Scar suffers from massive hubris as his belief that he would be a better king than Mufasa simply because he isn’t Mufasa. Perhaps its sibling rivalry or another psychological motivation, but the film really doesn’t seem to delve deep into why Scar wants the job other than that he feels he’s more fit to be king than either Mufasa or Simba and it would reward his hyena minions. Additionally, the fact that Scar possesses minions so that much of the blood doesn’t end up on his minions makes him one of the more terrifying villans in films during this time period, not to mention that he manipulates Simba psychologically to force his nephew to leave the Pride Lands.

This brings us to the Cute Little Animal Character Sidekick: Timon and Pumbaa. Shortly after they showed up on the screen, Polo left his spot on my stomach to sleep on a pillow. The duo is obnoxious and clearly serve the purpose to make the film less terrifying for children, as well as raise Simba while he’s out of the Pride Lands. (It seems as though they’re on the outskirts of the Pride Lands.) The film could work quite well without the characters and could be replaced by, say, a lion that raises Simba. Timon and Pumbaa might seem enjoyable while a child, but adulthood makes them seem annoying.

The film does feature a terrific score by Hans Zimmer, Tim Rice and Elton John, which actually does stand up to this day, which might be why the Broadway musical has lasted so long, other than spectacle.

But unfortunately, “The Lion King” is one of the few films that does not seem to improve with time, particularly as an adult. If anything can be learned from this project, the inclusion of a cute sidekick can often severely drag down an animated film, particularly one that strives for greatness.


Catharsis is what the Greek tragedians wanted at the end of the play. The word in Greek is κάθαρσις. It means to purge or clean. In this case it means a purging of emotions. 

The above comes from my notes from a class I took at DePaul University. 

Today I started a new play because I hadn’t written a play since I wrote an entry for last year’s DrekFest contest. Prior to that, my last play was a new version of Antigone I wrote, which upset a lot of people on Twitter because I argued that Creon is actually the tragic hero by the standards Aristotle lays out in Poetics

Antigone and Colonus had been sitting on my hard drive since then, untouched and bound to never be seen again. In January of 2011 I did a reading of Oedipus in my apartment in an attempt to try to do some development. 

While sitting in the office of a professor I had while studying theatre at The Theatre School at DePaul University, I had this revelation that I actually did more writing while I was studying biology at UIC and was more active in Chicago theatre than I am studying at an arts college. 

In this year, I’ve failed to see the plays that my friends have been involved with and only sporadically attended theater. I’ve failed to see any plays put on at DePaul and Columbia College Chicago, even though attending plays at the latter is something I should have done for my job. This afternoon I commented to my friend Zev that I swear on my battered copy of Sophocles that I’ll see The Right Brain Project’s Marat/Sade

(I also need to see John Conroy’s My Kind of Town at TimeLine Theatre and Angels in America at Court Theatre.)

An unfortunate problem with being raised in the theater is that I still need to be connected to it and fewer things make me happier than writing plays. I struggle with writing prose fiction because I have to perpetually be interested in the characters, which I find easier to do with a play because of how it’s written. Additionally, I genuinely believe that I am a good playwright and I’ve gotten reinforcement on that since I was in 11th grade. 

So today I opened up Scrivener and started a new play. I won’t say what exactly the subject matter is, but it does involve things I should work on in a session with a psychotherapist. Unfortunately there’s a long wait for psychotherapists in Chicago, so this will have to do for the time being so I don’t keep treating my friend in Chicago as a stand-in therapist. 

Let the catharsis through writing begin.