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Open thread: What should become of the Thompson Center

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State lawmakers continue mulling over the sale of the postmodern Thompson Center

Flickr Creative Commons/Roman Boed

What should be done with the James R. Thompson Center in downtown Chicago? Governor Bruce Rauner wants the 16-story structure off of state books and has been exploring a sale of the building since October 2015. Despite the infighting between lawmakers in Springfield, all indicators keep pointing to an eventual sale of the postmodern structure designed by Helmut Jahn.

The building’s detractors welcome the sale and likely demolition of the Thompson Center, however, preservationists and architecture critics are desperately trying to raise awareness of the building’s significance and importance in Chicago’s architectural legacy. This week, Landmarks Illinois revealed its latest list of endangered historic sites throughout the state, and at the top of the list is the Thompson Center. Last year, Preservation Chicago highlighted the Thompson Center as one of the most endangered buildings in Chicago.

Landmarks Illinois describes the building as a “place some people love to hate,” but also adds that this ire could be reduced or alleviated through reinvestment and by correcting some of the mistakes made in its construction. Preservation Chicago calls the Thompson Center one of Chicago’s “most iconic 1980s buildings” and says that its 17-story public atrium “is nothing less than spectacular.”

The Sony Center in Berlin could be viewed as the spiritual successor to the Thompson Center.
Flickr Creative Commons/David Melchor Diaz

Admirers of the Thompson Center often highlight the building’s tall, open atrium as being ambitious and awe-inspiring, but critics often claim that the building is a perfect example of government waste. In many ways, the Thompson Center is a postmodern homage to the great public spaces from earlier architectural periods. It can also be viewed as the grandfather of other great contemporary buildings that feature dramatic atriums, specifically the Helmut Jahn-designed Sony Center in Berlin.

Architecture is one of the city’s greatest exports and oftentimes Chicago has fine examples of building styles in their infancy. Would we consider demolishing the Daley Center or Federal Center—examples of stoic, institutional modernism? In recent years, developers have produced windfall profits through adaptive reuse efforts on older buildings that can no longer serve their original purpose. Even Helmut Jahn has stepped up to the plate with a framework for an adaptive reuse of the existing Thompson Center structure. Or is demolition and redevelopment of the Thompson Center site the only plausible solution?

What do you think should be done with the Thompson Center?

James R. Thompson Center

100 West Randolph Street, , IL 60601 Visit Website