Bertrand Goldberg’s fan club is back with one of his last commissions.
When I first ran across Bertrand Goldberg’s design for the Learning Resource Center (LRC) at Wright College in Chicago, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Part ziggurat, part spaceship, the massive, gleaming pyramid is rather unexpected even from the architect that gave us corncob skyscrapers and a clover-shaped hospital. But like most Goldberg designs, the more you look at the LRC, the more you come to believe in its structural audacity and provocative energy. Bertrand Goldberg's designs are always gutsy. And this building has guts.
A self-declared humanist, Bertrand Goldberg never shied away from the social dimension of architecture. More concerned with the human experience than the Modern aesthetic, Chicago’s most distinctive design mind did (arguably) more to reshape the city’s landscape than any other architect. Crafting an architecture that is still surprisingly prophetic, Goldberg used design to facilitate opportunities for interaction and communication, making his remarkably innovative spaces the backdrop for human connection. In what was his firm’s last major commission before his death, Wright College's LRC utilizes a radical aesthetic to serve a greater social purpose.
As one of four large buildings (all designed by Bertrand Goldberg Associates), the LRC stands as the focal point of campus- a 124-foot futuristic mass appearing abruptly on the flat landscape. Constructed between 1986 and 1992, it is a large and startling form, a disorienting pyramid on the prairie. Interconnected to the rest of campus via a series of bridges, the LRC operates as part of the campus system, a single piece of architecture relating both to the individual and the whole. On the interior, Goldberg's powerful language continues as a soaring vaulted atrium defines the pyramidal space, offering light and air that feels almost religious in nature. But this building is not just an empty cathedral to learning; it is a thoughtfully planned laboratory bustling with human activity.
Like much of Goldberg's earlier work, the LRC promotes human interaction through careful design. Faculty offices, a library, and computer labs are all housed under the same roof, enabling communication between students, faculty, and staff. Open in both philosophy and structure, the corners of the pyramid are transparent, making each floor visible from the next and connecting people to spaces. Though its programme may be standard Goldberg (if that even exists), its shape is decidedly different from his usual curvilinear concrete expression. Spiritual in form, its unusual mass is more of the next world than this one, and as one of the architect's last designs, the towering institutional building seems prescient.
Goldberg would work until his death in 1997, designing several smaller projects in the final years of his life. But his design for Wright College would be his last major social experiment, his last attempt to reshape and reconnect the Chicago landscape.
Wright College is located on Chicago's northwest side at 4300 N. Narragansett Avenue.
Image at top: Wright College. Part of the Ryerson and Burnham Archival Image Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago.
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