MITs Stata Center

Northwestern University is citing “critical proximity” as a nonnegotiable aspect of its plan to build a new medical research center on the site of Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Hospital. Critical proximity is a technical term that means absolutely essential right-next-doorness.

Prentice, a unique piece of Chicago’s architectural legacy, happens to be right next door to the Lurie Center for Medical Research, which NU opened five years ago.

And that’s why the university wants to knock it down.

NU says it can only discover lifesaving cures for horrible diseases if its research buildings stand cheek to cheek. If any of the two thousand scientists who’ll work in the new building have to, say, cross the street to have a cup of coffee with folks who work in the Lurie building—well, we can kiss the next big Alzheimer’s or cancer breakthrough good-bye.

A legendary model for research buildings is described at length in Jonah Lehrer’s New Yorker article, “Groupthink,” published last January. As noted in my column this week, “Groupthink” summarizes the science behind NU’s building plans.

The legendary model is MIT’s Building 20, a “magical incubator” that “ranks as one of the most creative environments of all time,” Lehrer writes.