Things aren’t looking too good for Chicago’s James R. Thompson Center. As state leaders continue fighting over the details of its sale, preservationists continue sounding the alarm, highlighting the postmodernist building’s architectural significance. This week, Landmarks Illinois, a state-level preservation organization, has highlighted a handful of Chicago-area sights on its latest list of most endangered buildings, but the first point is the beleaguered Thompson Center in the Loop.
The state-owned Thompson Center is a polarizing building. While architecture buffs appreciate its ambition and playfulness, others see it as the epitome of government waste. Grand in scale and complex in its details, the building makes a statement and pays homage to the great civic spaces that were built during the neoclassic and Art Deco eras. However, the building has been neglected by the state over the years and this deterioration has led to a deferred maintenance bill that could cost tax payers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Landmarks Illinois summarizes this dynamic, describing the Thompson Center as “a place some people love to hate.”
The Thompson Center’s broad plaza, prominently marked by Jean Dubuffet’s whimsical sculpture Monument with Standing Beast, continues a three-block path of great public artwork plazas, from 69 W. Washington St. with Miro’s Moon, Sun, and One Star, to The Picasso at Daley Plaza to Thompson Center’s plaza. While not officially designated, Jahn forged a landmark with Thompson’s Center’s building design and setting.
Now, 33 years since its opening, the Thompson Center is a place some people love to hate, the ire coming from aspects that can be alleviated through reinvestment and a reengineering of its systems.
Landmarks Illinois says that it would support the sale of the Thompson Center, but only if the sale led to an adaptive reuse of the existing structure. The group also highlights the cost and complications that would come from the demolition and redevelopment of the building, for instance, what would become of the busy Clark/Lake station? In their summary of the Thompson Center’s challenging situation, Landmarks Illinois suggest that Helmut Jahn’s own proposal for adaptive reuse could be used as a guideline.
Other Chicago-area sites highlighted by Landmarks Illinois on its latest list include the modernist O’Hare Rotunda Building at O’Hare International Airport, the postwar-era Singer Pavilion at the former Michael Reese Hospital site, and the McKee House in suburban Lombard.