Also nicknamed the “corncob towers,” Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina City is an eye-catching fixture in Chicago’s skyline. Built in 1967, the multi-use buildings were designed to stem the tide of the flight to the suburbs and bring members of the middle class back to the city. Marina City was a pioneer for its time, and its rounded reinforced concrete edges remain functional today.

Marina Towers in Chicago at dusk
Marina City’s efforts to lure middle class workers from the suburbs back to the big city proved to be emblematic of a shift that we are still seeing today. Photo by Bill I. Larson/Wikimedia Commons/CC-by-SA 4.0.

Miesian with a Twist

Architect Bertrand Goldberg was a student of Mies van der Rohe, and their shared value for modernist efficiency is evident. Goldberg, however, developed his own distinct style. According to the Chicago Architecture Foundation, “Goldberg believed that since no right angles exist in nature, none should exist in architecture.” This insistence shows in Marina City’s radiating, petal-like design.

Marina Towers Chicago
The two corncob towers house parking and wedge-shaped residential units. According to the Chicago Architecture Foundation, the towers’ cores were built first to their 65-story height, and the reinforced concrete balconies are cantilevered from perimeter columns. Photo by Diego Delso/CC-by-SA.

Like van der Rohe, though, Goldberg wanted his design to serve many purposes. Goldberg conceived of Marina City as a “city within a city,” where both residents and businesses would benefit from the complex’s mixed use. Goldberg’s original design included five towers, two residential towers, an office building (since converted to a hotel), a theater and a base building.

Goldberg explained, “we cannot burden either business with buildings used thirty-five hours a week or apartment buildings used only at night or on the weekends, with our tax loads. We can no longer subsidize the kind of planning that enjoys only the single-use of our expensive city utilities. In our ‘cities within cities’ we shall turn our streets up into the air, and stack the daytime and nighttime use of our land.”

The city within a city upon Marina’s completion in 1967 offered shopping, restaurants, a bowling alley, ice rink, gym, parking lots, laundry and rooftop deck access. When the towers were completed in the 60s, they were the tallest apartment buildings in the world as well as the tallest reinforced concrete buildings.

The units’ wedge-shaped design fans out to the balcony, allowing for a view out to the city. Photo by Mattchobbs/publicdomainarchive.com.

Marina City Today

While much has changed, Marina City is now considered a landmark and remains operational. For tours, visit here for more information.