Bertrand Goldberg was an American architect best known for the Marina City complex in Chicago, Illinois, the tallest residential concrete buildings in the world at the time of completion.
Goldberg was born in Chicago, and trained at the Cambridge School of Landscape Architecture (now part of Harvard University). At age 18, in 1932, he went to Germany to study at the Bauhaus, working in the small office of architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Following civil unrest in Berlin, Goldberg fled to Paris in 1933 and soon returned to Chicago, where he first worked for modernist architects Keck & Keck (1935), Paul Schweikher (1935-36), and Howard Fisher. Goldberg opened his own architectural office in Chicago in 1937. During World War II, Goldberg was active under the Lanham Act designing housing and mobile penicillin laboratories for the U.S. government.
Goldberg was called upon for innovative structural solutions to complex problems, particularly for residential, institutional, and industrial design projects. One of Goldberg’s first commissions, in 1938, was for the North Pole chain of ice cream shops. His ingenious design allowed the small shops to be disassembled, transported, and reassembled with little effort. Its flat roof was supported by tension wires from a single, illuminated column rising up through the shop’s center; glass windows and a door formed a box below the roof.
Goldberg’s experimental plywood boxcars, demountable housing units for military use during and after World War II, led him to seek unconventional forms through mundane materials such as plywood and concrete. Perhaps his best-known commission, Marina City in Chicago (1959-1964), incorporated prefab bathrooms into two striking multi-lobed columnar forms often described as “corn cobs”. After the success of Marina City, he received many more large commissions for hospitals, schools, and other public institutional buildings, such as Prentice Women’s Hospital for Northwestern University, science and medical complexes for SUNY Stony Brook, the Raymond Hilliard Homes, and River City in Chicago.
During his career, Goldberg designed a rear-engine automobile, canvas houses, unique furniture, prefabricated houses and mobile vaccine laboratories for the United States government. He collaborated on some projects with his friend and fellow “design scientist” R. Buckminster Fuller, as well as other modernists.
In the late 1930s, Goldberg was present at the famous meeting of Frank Lloyd Wright and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at Taliesin. He also was friends with Josef Albers, a teacher of his at the Bauhaus. After the success of Marina City, Goldberg moved his work to focus on larger scale social, planning and engineering issues, and proposed many progressive urban projects, at a time when the future of urban growth and development in the United States was not always clear. One of these projects, River City, a mixed-use apartment complex in Chicago, was ultimately built in a reduced extent from its original vision, but is well regarded for its use of concrete, form and unique interior space with a long winding atrium winding through the building, some 14 stories high, with seventeen stories in total. The atrium resembles a beehive.
Goldberg also wrote extensively on urban issues and other historical and cultural issues. He was the recipient of numerous awards and his work was the subject of many exhibitions in the United States and Europe. Goldberg was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1966, and was awarded the Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government in 1985.
“My message, I think, is much more important either than myself personally, or than the quick identification as the round-building architect. I am talking about the performance of people in a social system, about the performance of people in the city. I have spent a great deal of time not only studying what I have been able to discover, but to demonstrate it. I only wish there were more people who shared with me this interest in the role of architecture in society.”
The Betrand Goldberg Archive is held by the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago. The archive includes photographs, drawings, correspondence, and audiovisual materials.