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Bertrand Goldberg

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Bertrand Goldberg, about 1967. Courtesy of the Goldberg Family Archive.
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Date of death

Architect Bertrand Goldberg (1913–1997) is best known for his sculptural high-rise buildings, including Chicago’s iconic Marina City complex (1959–67), and a long career designing innovative architecture for health care and education. Goldberg’s curvilinear designs diverged from the straight lines of modern architecture but maintained a deep engagement with critical issues of the period, including the revival of the American city in the post-WWII era, low-cost housing, and projects for middle-class leisure culture.

Born and raised in Chicago, Goldberg trained at Harvard College and the German Bauhaus school of design, followed by an internship in the Berlin office of architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. After this period in Europe, he returned to his hometown, where he worked in the offices of George Fred Keck and Paul Schweikher before starting his own practice in 1937. His early projects included modern homes and small-scale commercial architecture, often designed with experimental structural and design approaches, including mast-hung buildings and houses built with shipping containers. In 1948, Goldberg developed an expansive plan for a new neighborhood for workers near Lake Calumet in Indiana, which included facilities for shopping, transportation, education, and health care. This project spurred his lifelong investment in American urbanism and housing, increasingly important issues in an era of suburban expansion and urban disenfranchisement in the United States.

Goldberg’s first large-scale answer to these problems was Marina City, designed beginning in 1959 as “a city within a city,” a new kind of mixed-use development that would return residential life to an aging downtown area of Chicago. The complex includes over 900 apartments in two round concrete towers, an office building, a theater, retail stores, a bowling alley, and an ice-skating rink, all located on a compact site north of the Chicago Loop. Upon completion in 1968, Marina City was the tallest residential complex in the world and quickly became both an architectural icon and a model for urban revitalization in the United States. 

Goldberg went on to develop a range of built and unbuilt mixed-use projects for cities including Detroit, Denver, and Dayton, Ohio, while gaining a reputation for visionary architecture with experimental architects and critics around the world. In Chicago, his projects included the Raymond Hilliard Homes (1963–66), a high-rise public housing development on the South Side, and River City (1979–86), another “city within a city” in the South Loop. In his later career, Goldberg designed dozens of schools, universities, and hospitals that advanced progressive models for education and health care in his daring signature forms of reinforced concrete. 

The Art Institute celebrated Goldberg’s work in the 2011 retrospective exhibition and catalogue Bertrand Goldberg: Architecture of Invention. Goldberg’s papers, drawings, and models were gifted by his family to the museum in 2002 and are housed in the Department of Architecture and Design and the Ryerson and Burnham Archives. Access the Bertrand Goldberg Archive here.

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