ArchiTech | Current Exhibit | Exhibition Archive | Artists | Address & e-mail | Frank Lloyd Wright | Press | Links

skyscraper art
carbide and carbon

Marina City, Chicago (1959-1964)

Bertrand Goldberg's speech about Marina City presented at the seminar on "Architectural Aspects of Edmonton Civic Centre Plan," Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. September 27, 1959

The first portion of this afternoon's session are excerpts from a presentation which I gave in 1959 at the Art Institute of Chicago as Marina City was announced and foundations were being started.

The second portion of this afternoon's talk has come from excerpts of a speech which I gave at a Design Conference on environment at Aspen, Colorado.

I hope that our struggles and thoughts in some way will give you comfort in the coming development at Edmonton in that you are not alone in your doubts, your problems and the solutions which will come to you for them as you undertake this great work.

Today I am to talk about our new $36 million living center in the heart of Chicago at the Chicago River and State Street - Marina City. I'm going to tell you about the blood and guts of its design and do a crystal ball on the way men may expect to find cities in the next 40 years of this century.

My Mother-in-law asked me to describe the Central City planning which Marina City envisions. I went through a rather lengthy and philosophical explanation, and she said very simply and brightly, "Oh, that's what we used to call living above the store."

Where "living-above-the-store" is still possible, certain critical and difficult problems which are a part of our daily downtown Central City life don't exist.

There is no commuting problem, except to get downstairs to work.

There is no service problem. The high population density makes all services available, cheaply and quickly.

Bertrand Goldberg, Architect of Chicago's Marina Towers
Marina City (Chicago)
Bertrand Goldberg, Architect of Chicago's Marina Towers
Marina City Model
Bertrand Goldberg, Architect of Chicago's Marina Towers
Hedrich Blessing
Marina City, Chicago

There is no "cultural" problem. The community is its own culture: the museum or the concert is the "guy next door" - and not the trip which must be deliberately undertaken to absorb a higher experience.

There is more leisure and more ways to use it for the man who "lives above the store."

There is another interesting byproduct in taxes and all other kinds of building expense. It costs less to live above the store than it does to live away from work.

Finally, men-most men- like the action that comes from living together. We like the market place, we like the forum. We like the social and mental heat that we generate when we rub against each other. We like cities.

Marina City was already designed - I was asked to explain it, and in order to explain it, it seems to me that I have had to explain much of the present thinking which I hope certainly has become a part of not only my own subconscious, but of every productive person in the fields which touch our economic planning.

So now, let us examine the design of Marina City, and let us see if the design of Marina City belongs to the environment of today's thinking.

The space in which Marina City is located, as you can see from the slide, is in a forest of high buildings. Marina City, itself, will occupy almost a square block between State Street and Dearborn Street on the north bank of the river.

This is Marina City. Here in Marina City, we have completely eliminated the concept of the street. We have created a plaza in the best European classical sense of the city square, and on the plaza we have erected five interrelated buildings.

The plaza in itself marks the disappearance of the corridor street. The plaza becomes the open platform on which automobiles and people, alternately passengers and pedestrians can wander as they choose. Also, in terms of space here in Marina City, we have done what few cathedrals in Europe are able to do. We have reached out for a piece of vertical space, which is so thrilling to men everywhere.

I mention five buildings contained within this indefinable space. The buildings consist of a commercial platform constructed of concrete post and beam system which covers the entire three acres of property. This lower building contains of the going and the coming - the commerce, the health club, the package room, the lobby, the restaurant, the marina for the storage of 700 boats, and indeed the boat slips themselves with the water penetrating 75 feet into the interior of the building. The second and third buildings are the residential towers built of concrete around cores 35' diameter and 600' high surmounting the garage by 20 stories. The fourth building is the theatre building with a catenary roof stretched on a concrete frame. This is the Marina City Center - the building which will attract the immediate attention of the pedestrian. And, finally, the fifth building is the office block constructed on bearing concrete mullions which form a background and a fence to mark off the end of Marina City and protect Marina City from the inroads of the yet undeveloped areas to the north.

Bertrand Goldberg, Architect of Chicago's Marina Towers
Photographer: Chabandan Marina City, 1963
Exhibition photomural, 1985
6 feet x 4 feet
Bertrand Goldberg, Architect of Chicago's Marina Towers
Marina City Construction
Bertrand Goldberg, Architect of Chicago's Marina Towers
Marina City cross-section

Marina City at night is a lighted city. The question of the difference of appearance between daytime and nighttime is an important design factor for urban centers-not so much for the suburbs, not so much for the countryside. But in town where people will live with a structure 24 hours a day, the difference in appearance between the structure summer and winter and day and night becomes a thing of tremendous importance.

Architects are always discussing "scale" - the relationship between the human and the building which surrounds him.

Marina City has been carefully conceived in terms of scale. We first decided that Marina City would be seen from the opposite south bank of the river, then, by people approaching on both the State Street and Dearborn Street bridges. Also, there was an excellent long shot from Michigan Avenue. It was of first importance to consider the appearance of the distant view. This is a view which has no scale except as compared with other buildings in the vicinity. With this view in mind, Marina City will stand out as an intriguing geometric texture of concrete twin towers against a carefully controlled quiet composition of the background commercial building. The theatre building will not be visible to any large extent.

However, upon approach to Marina City, the scale changes tremendously. The towers disappear up above and the pedestrian or the automobile passenger is concerned only with the immediacy of the view.

Here is it necessary to think of the relationship to human size. For this relationship, we have used the Marina City theatre. The central form of the theatre and the sculptural concrete of the theatre has a degree of intimacy which none of the other structures at Marina City has. The theatre, itself, we call the Marina City Center, because it is at this point that people will disembark, and it is from this point that people may reach any other portion of the Marina City under cover with automatic forms of transportation - the escalator, and the elevator.

At an early time of our design, we felt that Marina City required a sizable area for a garden. Later, as we worked through our design, we realized that the size of the garden was not so important as the ability to relate the garden to human scale. In this fashion, we conceived of a design for a sculpture garden, which would surround the sunken skating rink, located near the river front of Marina City. Here it is that people may gather in small groups, talk, sit, contemplate the river, the boats, or the kinetics of the changing lights of the city before them.

We have interesting plans for an annual outdoor sculpture competition for the sculpture garden, but we do not intend to display this in the sense of museum sculpture: rather to let people live among the art work, which is the product of their time.

Marina City has achieved the 24-hour balance of urban activities.

1. We have housing - 900 units - in the two towers.

2. We have commercial offices - 180,000 square feet.

3. We have amusement and recreation centers - theatre, bowling, swimming, skating.

4. We have health centers - a health club, a gymnasium.

5. We have the marina.

6. We have 1200 seat auditorium for political meetings, meetings for discussion, or commercial meetings having to do with presentation of products.

Bertrand Goldberg, Architect of Chicago's Marina Towers
Marina City Elevation
Bertrand Goldberg, Architect of Chicago's Marina Towers
Marina City Balconies
(Chicago), 1963
Bertrand Goldberg, Architect of Chicago's Marina Towers
Marina City Plan

This rubbing together of people through a 24-hour period generates a heat both psychological and economic. As regards the economic heat, the facilities which are contained within the Marina City balance of activities could not possible be supported by single occupancy - either housing or commercial.

And I firmly believe that the concept of total environment creates a pleasurable experience for the occupants. St. Augustin said that beauty is that which gives pleasure. I do not know if that which gives pleasure is also beauty. But we are closer to our objective by creating the pleasurable total life - both physical and spiritual.

This next slide is a close-up of the towers...

The towers have been designed as a central core which contains the elevator shafts, the stairways, all of the utilities, and out from which radiate all of the apartments. The central core is 35' in diameter. The overall is approximately 105' in diameter.

The central core is a structural concrete cylinder. It resists the wind and it helps support the building. The shape of the core means that the buildings have only 30% of the wind resistance that they would otherwise have with the same dimension, but in a rectilinear form.

I strongly feel that the shape of these buildings have a relationship of a tree to its branches, as compared with other types of cellular design, which apartment buildings have taken, where each apartment has the relationship of beehive and the cell.

The next slide shows the plan of the building: The central core containing all of the facilities and three typical apartments.

Actually, while these apartments are shown as occurring on a single floor, the plan of the building is somewhat different. There will be 32 floors of efficiency apartments and one-bedroom apartments. There will be eight floors of one-bedroom apartments and two-bedroom apartments.

The buildings will contain 60% one-bedroom apartments, 30% efficiency apartments and 10% two-bedroom apartments.

No apartment door faces into any other apartment door, but rather each apartment door is connected to its trunk - to the core of the building. We feel on a subjective level that this produces a feeling of immediacy and a feeling of the individual house which is not experienced in the beehive type of planning.

These buildings have been described as cylindrical. This is not true. The organization of the building is rather the organization of a tremendous sunflower - where the core is the center of the flower and each of the bays emanating from the core are very much - both in shape and in organization - like the petal of a flower.

The efficiency apartments occupy one of these petals. The one-bedroom apartments occupy a petal and a half; and the two-bedroom apartments occupy two and a half petals.

The efficiency apartment emanates from the core placing the dressing room and bathroom closet to the core where the restricted space in the development of shape makes this most feasible. The kitchen comes next and finally, at the outside of the building, where the function of the building requires the greatest amount of view and light and sensation of openness we have our living-room, dining room, sleeping room combination. Beyond this the balcony which is 10' by 20' wide in approximate dimensions with a sensation of continuing expansion of space. When we step out on the balcony, we are at the extreme outside of the petal of the flower.

Bertrand Goldberg, Architect of Chicago's Marina Towers
Marina City Studio Plan
Bertrand Goldberg, Architect of Chicago's Marina Towers
Marina City Bedroom 1
Bertrand Goldberg, Architect of Chicago's Marina Towers
Marina City Bedroom 2


I am going to show you a view of the interior taken from full-size models, which we have built of these apartments at 316 W. Randolph Street here in Chicago. You may see that there is a feeling of constant expansion - a constant space beyond in that space in which you are presently standing. This is dynamic space in contrast to static space.

The next slide will show the one-bedroom apartment. Here again you may see the way in which we constrict the functional aspects of the apartment to the narrow dimension of the flower petal and expand the apartment continuously from the center on toward the outside. Yet, with all of this expanding space, we have a lower ratio of glass area to square footage of living space than more apartment buildings. This produces an efficiency for electric heating and air conditioning. All apartments, incidentally, will be air-conditioned.

This next slide is a view of the bedroom balcony taken at our model apartment built in Chicago. As you can see, the camera man is suspended well over space.

The next slide shows the interior of the one-bedroom living room. This is actually a combination living room and dining room, and you again can see the unfolding of the balcony beyond the enclosed living space. Still beyond the balcony lies the city. In this instance, the photograph of the city was taken from a helicopter exactly located on the building site at the 40th floor of the Marina City towers. There will be 20 floors above this and of course, 40 floors below.

The next slide is that of the two-bedroom apartment, which contains two and a half petals of our flower. The living room is in the central petal. The dining room shares to some extent the petal adjacent to it with a master bedroom where they both use the same balcony.

On the opposite side of the living room is an additional master bedroom with its balcony.

The balconies serve a double function. In the first instance, they permit the expansion of living space, but in the second instance, they permit easy maintenance of the windows with washing, painting and tuckpointing, and of the heat pumps which both heat and cool the apartments. These are located outside over the balcony doors, and you have seen them in the previous photographs.

The air in the halls or central core will be conditioned by a central plant electric heat pump system and maintained under a positive pressure, so that air leakage will be into, and not out of the apartments.

I would like to discuss for a moment the automobile storage space. We have used our automobile garage building budget to elevate the apartments above the noise and dirt of the streets. Then by the careful planning of the commercial areas - swimming pool and service areas below the plaza - we have managed to create a feeling of openness and expansiveness at the pedestrian plaza level.

The commercial building has been designed as a backstop to our residential towers. Here again, we have continued our use of concrete as a materiel relating the office building to the residential towers through the use of a single material. We have designed our office building wall as a texture, rather than as a revelation of the special structural system. The office building as you remember shelters the project from the undeveloped area lying to the north.

The theatre building is the building which will be seen in terms of greatest intimacy by the approaching pedestrian or passenger. This is a building which in its scale of forms we have retained personal intimacy and suggestion of masculinity. We hope that there is a physical quality to the design of the theatre, which will relate the onlooker to the composition as a whole.

The next slide shows the curious relationship of the structure of the theatre tot he physical structure of an arm. Where the exterior concrete frame of the theatre touches the ground, we have the elbow. At the extreme cantilevered reaching end, we have the hand. And high up, we have the shoulder. The roof is slung by means of catenary cables between the hand and the shoulder. The seats, the gallery, is supported along the concrete arm itself.

We have used many devices to relate the theatre form to the pedestrian. We have mentioned the masculinity of the form, we have mentioned the physical quality of the form. A third relationship is in the slope of the theatre overhang. This is identical to the slope of the automobile ramp, and will relate these complex buildings one to the other.

The next slide shows the rear of the theatre which will be the Dearborn Street frontage. Here you may see the shoulder muscles which are holding the shoulder down to the ground and which keep the structure from tipping over around its elbow.

Marina City is the microcosm of the city. It is a total urban center. A total environment. It is a way for people - some people - to live and a necessity certainly if Center City is to survive.

Marina City has been called revolutionary, but I do not believe along with Corbusier that things are revolutionized by making revolutions. The revolution lies in the solution of existing problems.

Link to Bertrand Goldberg's Bio Page
Link to Bertrand Goldberg: The Shape of Space - 2005 exhibition at ArchiTech Gallery

David Jameson
ArchiTech Gallery
730 North Franklin suite 200
Chicago, IL 60654

carbide and carbon building blueprint for sale

Site designed by nanoSmith
© 1999-2008 ArchiTech Gallery