Bertrand Goldberg’s 1933 return to Chicago coincided with a growing interest in experimental designs for housing, a field that many experts believed would offer architects a unique role in shaping the society and environment of the future. Through the development of low-cost, modular, prefabricated houses, he acquired a profound appreciation for architecture’s humanist potential and discovered his lifelong passion for urbanism. As Goldberg’s practice matured, his engagements with domestic architecture anticipated and framed the changing priorities of American culture—from the 1930s infatuation with technology as a societal panacea and the World War II–era obsession with the home, to a critical engagement with the social and economic systems shaping American cities in the later 20th century.
Many of Goldberg’s early designs modified conventional residential styles for a new era of modern living, such as his 1939 factory-built Standard Houses and cooperative new town for the Calumet region. In the 1950s, domestic designs allowed him to experiment with aspects of technical production and spatial planning that would figure prominently in his later work. Goldberg’s 1951 Helstein House offered a unique testing ground for structural innovation, with a bold concrete frame that he later employed on a grand scale for apartments in Astor Tower, completed in 1963. Prefiguring his daring high-rises, his designs for apartment buildings in North Kansas City moved the family home to the 13th floor, complete with a private patio and picket fences, while suites of innovative custom furniture and built-ins for single-family houses from the 1930s to the 1950s promoted a dense layering of living functions that prefigured the multiuse qualities of Marina City.
Bertrand Goldberg. Standard Houses, Perspective, c. 1939. The Art Institute of Chicago, Archive of Bertrand Goldberg, gift of the Goldberg Family, RX23664/131.26.