The Corn Cobs

Marina City, Chicago

Marina City, Chicago

The twin towers of Chicago’s Marina City (1959-64) – inevitably nicknamed the “corn cobs” – were a social as well as an urban landmark.  Their architect, Bertrand Goldberg (1913-1997), insisted their floor-plans were derived from the 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 organization – like the petal of the flower.”

These two concrete towers were an exciting practical departure from established development thinking:  their construction is transparent, with a spiral of car parks leading to cake-slice shaped apartments with open semi-circular balconies;  the intention – which proved highly successful from the start – was to provide downtown accommodation for single and childless city-centre workers who wished to live virtually, if not actually, within the Loop.

The first nineteen storeys form a ramped multi-storey car-park (staffed by valets, presumably to minimise misadventures).  The twentieth floor is given over to services, included a launderette, and the floors above consist of apartments with some of the most enviable views in Chicago.

Conceived as a “city within a city”, Marina City was equipped with shops, restaurant, entertainment facilities and hosted both radio and television studios, as well as a marina with direct access to the Chicago River.

To provide nine hundred apartments economically, Goldberg chose to build two sixty-storey towers, and rejected steel cladding as too expensive.  Consequently, they were for their time the tallest reinforced-concrete structures in the world.

At a time when “white flight” to the suburbs was a major problem for urban planners, Marina City helped to turn the tide, making inner-city living desirable and convenient – though its residents, driving in and out and sweeping home in high-speed elevators, need hardly set foot on the sidewalk for weeks on end.

A helpful description of Marina City is at

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Windy City:  the architecture of Chicago please click here.


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