Chicago’s Marina City Marks 50 Years as Sustainable Icon

Chicago--Marina City, a mixed-use property that includes two "corncob" residential towers that are iconic to the city's skyline, celebrated the 50th anniversary of its groundbreaking this week.

Chicago–Marina City, a mixed-use property that includes two “corncob” residential towers that are iconic to the city’s skyline, celebrated the 50th anniversary of its groundbreaking this week.

Architect Geoffrey Goldberg, son of Bertrand Goldberg, the architect who designed the structure, spoke at an event attended by MHN on Monday, organized by the Portland Cement Associate to mark the occasion. He discussed the history of the building, but also explained how its sustainable design (for its time–before the term was even coined) continues to point to the future.

“Why think about a 50-year-old building?” Goldberg asked rhetorically. “Is there something here, with its inventiveness, collaboration and expertise–is there something here that we can use today? The most advanced designers, engineers and developers of their time came together here to pursue some very unusual ideas and solve some very difficult problems.

“Marina City wasn’t a developer’s scheme to make money, though it made money,” Goldberg continued. “It wasn’t simply an architect’s vision, though there was a lot of that. It wasn’t simply a place to rent, though it was that, too. It was all of these things and yet something more. When it was built, it was an inspiration, and remains one today.”

As a pioneering mixed-use property with important multifamily residential, commercial and recreational components, Marina City does indeed continue to inspire developers and designers for whom sustainability is a key goal. “It was one of the most complex urban projects ever built,” Goldberg noted. “It was, in its time, the highest apartment towers in the city, the densest development, and the first mixed-use complex in Chicago [in decades]. It was the first to bring housing downtown. It was Chicago’s first planned development–Number One on city block Number One.”

It was also the first development to incorporate parking as a feature of the structure, and the first to provide apartments to the middle class with “big, usable balconies,” Goldberg said. “The idea is that the parts work together, and it’s lean, mean and sweet–there’s no fat, no extras, no glitz. It’s a working man’s tool, purposeful and elegant.”

Moreover, the property had green elements before green was cool–or even a working concept in the real estate world. “Marina was about energy, and how to preserve it,” Goldberg explained. “It was one of ConEd’s first all-electric buildings, and the idea was simple: give people choices. Each apartment controlled its own energy. For heating, cooling and hot water, each residence had its own meters. When residents weren’t home, they’d turn them down. You don’t pay for everyone else, just yourself.”

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