National Building Arts Center presents The James R. Thompson Center: Preserving the Postmodern People’s Palace by Elizabeth Blasius and Jonathan Solomon May 10, 2023

The National Building Arts Center announces its first-ever National Historic Preservation Month Lecture:

The James R. Thompson Center: Preserving Futures at the Postmodern People’s Palace: Should we preserve the very recent past? Join us for a story about efforts to save a very prominent Chicago building dating to 1985.

Presented by Elizabeth Blasius and Jonathan Solomon of Preservation Futures

Wednesday, May 10 · 6 – 7:30pm CDT
Virtual ZOOM event
FREE but reservations required

“The James R. Thompson Center in Chicago, designed by Helmut Jahn, is an asymmetrical, seventeen-story glass and steel-framed Post-Modern structure with a curving stepped façade and a squared-off back. Previously known as the State of Illinois Center, it was completed in 1985 as an office building for State of Illinois employees and services, with an additional retail component, food court, and access to Chicago’s public transit system.

“With its reflection of a classical rotunda; abstracted red, white, and blue palate; and public plaza, the Thompson Center combines references to past and vernacular architectural styles with high-tech structural expression to embody ideals such as government transparency and civic participation. The building is iconic, occupying a full square block, and establishes relationships between adjacent city and county government buildings. The building’s prominent location and ample public space has made it the site of political protests and rallies, while also serving the people of Illinois and Chicago through its accessible status.

“After years of deferred maintenance and calls to sell the building, the State has sold it to Prime Group, a private-sector developer, who intends to execute a build to suit project for Google for use as the companies’ second Chicago headquarters. This highly-anticipated project has inspired the City of Chicago to provide generous public-sector incentives to deliver corresponding housing to the immediate area by renovating existing office towers. Despite the adaptive re-use of the Thompson Center constituting a preservation win, the public has yet to see comprehensive renderings of what the project will look like, and Prime Group has objected to the buildings listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

“As authors of the National Register Nomination for the Thompson Center and advocates to dismantle the barriers around the practice and culture of historic preservation, Blasius and Solomon, principals of Preservation Futures, will discuss the history and significance of the Thompson Center as both a piece of civic architecture and a preservation action, and explore the meanings behind contemporary and cross discipline preservation wins.

“Biography: Preservation Futures is a Chicago-based firm exploring the future of historic preservation through research, action, and design. Founded by architectural historian Elizabeth Blasius and architect Jonathan Solomon in 2021, Preservation Futures goes beyond historic preservation’s traditional approach to saving buildings to identify and shepherd future landmarks that elevate the social and cultural history embedded in places and spaces.”


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