Helmut Jahn, architect of several notable Chicago structures, including the James R. Thompson Center (aka the State of Illinois Building), has put forth an idea for adaptive reuse of the existing property which would not only preserve the postmodern Thompson Center, but would also add a new contributing tower that should help balance the budget on maintaining the aging 16-story structure. According to Crain’s and the Tribune’s Blair Kamin, Jahn has offered a conceptual rendering of a slim 110-story tower that could accompany the existing Thompson Center and help breathe new life into the property.
Governor Rauner announced his desire to unload the building from the state’s books back in October 2015, citing its staggering $326 million in deferred maintenance costs. Of course, any sale of the building would almost certainly lead to its demolition to clear the way for a new development. And to help bait the public and lawmakers into working state Republicans to sell off the property and offer a rare opportunity to redevelop a full city block in the heart of downtown Chicago, the governor has teamed up with the architects at Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill to draft some conceptual renderings of what could eventually replace the Thompson Center. The result produced some images of a supertall tower reminiscent to the failed Chicago Spire that would stand high above the Loop area.
Crain’s suggests that either supertall proposal would be a longshot, and indeed, both scenarios are certainly ambitious considering the cost of either project and concerns about a real estate slowdown in the coming years. However, Jahn has made it very clear that he strongly prefers preservation and adaptive reuse over demolition. And Jahn is not alone. Preservationists have been sounding their concerns about the building’s future as well. And just as Jahn stepped in to offer his input regarding the mayor’s idea to demolish the Lakeside Center at McCormick Place to make room for George Lucas’s museum, the legendary architect is not only helping to push the conversation about the Thompson Center forward, but he’s offering ideas that could satisfy all parties.