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New documentary makes the case for saving Chicago’s threatened Thompson Center

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After appearances at several film festivals, the short is now available to view online

Starship Chicago

A polarizing postmodern icon, the Loop’s James R. Thompson Center (aka the State of Illinois Building) has been embroiled in controversy ever since opening 1985. Despite its love-it-or-hate-it design, HVAC shortcomings, and neglected condition, the threatened building is still an important piece of Chicago’s architectural heritage worth preserving for future generations, argues documentary producer-director Nathan Eddy.

The documentary film’s official poster.
Link Salas

In a new 16-minute piece titled Starship Chicago, the filmmaker explores the importance of the block-sized civic structure via interviews with building designer Helmut Jahn, postmodernist colleague Stanley Tigerman, architecture critics Blair Kamin and Lynn Becker, and former Illinois Governor James “Big Jim” Thompson.

Recognizing that its time as a state-owned property is likely coming to an end, both preservationists and Mr. Jahn advocate for the adaptive reuse of the Thompson Center. From the addition of a slender office tower to a conversion of the building’s soaring atrium into a hotel or shopping center, the personalities interviewed in the film seem keen to see the Thompson Center live on in some capacity.

Current Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has publicly called for the sale—and likely demolition—of the Thompson Center starting in 2015. Things got more serious this year when Rauner rolled out conceptual renderings showing a 115-story supertall tower rising in its place. The sale, it is argued, could provide over $200 million to the state’s depleted coffers while avoiding a $326 million deferred maintenance bill.

Straddling the unloved no-man’s land between trendy and classic, other notable examples of postmodernism are also coming under threat. Last week, New York preservationists came together to advocate landmark designation for the 1984 former AT&T and Sony headquarters building at 550 Madison Avenue. The push was precipitated by a recently announced plan to gut the tower’s stone base in favor of a new two-story glass curtain wall.

Starship Chicago is Eddy’s second production and comes on the heels of The Absent Column, a short film following the hard fought—and ultimately unsuccessful—battle to save Chicago’s Bertrand Goldberg–designed Prentice Women's Hospital.

James R. Thompson Center

100 West Randolph Street, , IL 60601 Visit Website