Bertrand Goldberg’s design for Marina City had a lasting impact on Chicago urbanism and provided a virtually unrivaled contribution to the cultural imagination of the mid-century world. Stemming from a request by labor leader William McFetridge to create a building that would combine his union’s headquarters, commercial facilities, and convenient housing for office workers, this mixed-use complex grew into a microcosm of the urban landscape or, in Goldberg’s words, “a City with a City.” From the distinctive form and novel engineering of the residential towers, to the careful balance of density and cultural amenities, Marina City represented one of the most ambitious efforts to revitalize the center of a major American city in the postwar period.
Like Jane Jacobs, who mounted a passionate campaign for urban diversity in New York, Goldberg recognized that the tax base and vibrant life of Chicago’s city center could not be supported by suburban commuters who used the downtown area for only 35 hours a week. Marina City, therefore, was designed to attract a lively 24-hour cycle of living, work, and play in the complex’s office space, theaters, restaurants, stores, bowling lanes, marina, and ice-skating rink. Instantly iconic, Marina City stood out from the still-industrial banks of the Chicago River as a marvel of the modern age, with 65 stories of all-electric living, constructed with reinforced concrete at the astounding rate of one floor per day. During this project, Bertrand Goldberg Associates grew from an office of under 10 to a thriving 50-person firm known for its distinctive focus on architecture for urbanism and expressive vocabulary of forms in concrete.
Bertrand Goldberg. Marina City, Chicago, IL, South Elevation and Details, c. 1961. The Art Institute of Chicago, Archive of Bertrand Goldberg, gift of the Goldberg Family, RX23664/75.47.