PARTIAL WIN: Chicago Architecture Club’s Thompson Center Competition Generates Creative Adaptive Reuse Ideas (Chicago 7 2016, 2018, 2019 & 2020)

Save the James R. Thompson Center Rally held June 23, 2021. James R. Thompson Center, 1985, Helmut Jahn, 100 W. Randolph Street. Photo Credit: Matthew Kaplan
“Governor Pritzker has the opportunity, after years of neglect by his predecessors, to lead through the sale of the Thompson Center by giving it new life.
“Repurposing the building the right way could go beyond what the building ever was, making it better, more public, and a place where you want to work, stay overnight, live or just visit and feel good.
“Miracles and dreams can become real.”
— Helmut Jahn during 2020 interview

“Is there any hope for those who want to preserve the James R. Thompson Center in the Loop?

“We might have a sense of this in a few weeks. Aug. 16 is the deadline the state has set for proposals to acquire the building and its full-block site. The state then wants time for review, to interview the proposers and let them submit revisions, with a goal of picking a winner in November.

“Another important deadline is today July 19, 5 p.m. to be exact. It’s when submissions are due for a competition the Chicago Architecture Club is running for proposals to reuse the property. The club’s contest was an incentive for architects, engineers and anybody else with an interest in design to put on their thinking caps.

“The goal here is not a transaction but preservation. What are the best ideas for reusing a building that for its flaws and flourishes was a 1980s attempt to redefine civic space and traditional government architecture? With its atrium that lets the sun pour in, the building stands in contrast to those that worship rentable square feet. It is defiantly inefficient.

“So two processes are underway, but the power lies with the state. It’s the owner, and it has made clear its desire to maximize the sale price. In contrast, nobody has to listen to what the architecture club comes up with, even if the death in May of the Thompson Center’s renowned architect, Helmut Jahn, has given the whole matter poignance.

“Yet the Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph St., is hardly an easy case study, and it’s quite possible the state will be disappointed with the responses. It can be a teardown, but it’s also the CTA’s busiest hub, and service to six L lines has to be maintained. A developer who wants to go big on the site has to decide what they are building for. An office market in work-from-home transition? High-rise housing with so much competition? And who really needs another hotel?

“The Thompson Center is a quandary that has intrigued the dean of Chicago developers, John Buck. ‘I have looked at that building, either to repurpose it or even building a tower on part of the property. None of these exercises approached anything that made sense to me,” Buck said. Yet he said the building is of ‘landmark quality’ and should be preserved for public use.

“Maybe there will be a great idea, or the combined weight of several ideas, to induce Gov. J.B. Pritzker to opt for preservation. ‘It seems like the most sustainable building you can create is the one that already exists,’ Chicago architect Lamar Johnson said.

“It won’t be easy, and many will argue that it’s irresponsible not to sell it for top dollar and bring it on the tax rolls in a big way. But wrong moves can create a downtown drag similar to the old Block 37.

“Thinking ‘outside the box’ made Jahn world famous. The same is needed now from those who would save his Thompson Center and make it shine in the Loop. (Roeder, Chicago Sun-Times, 7/19/21)

Read the full story at the Chicago Sun-Times

Saving the Thompson Center requires boldness worthy of its architect; While the state looks for top dollar, an architecture group has called for ideas for preservation, David Roeder, Chicago Sun-Times, 7/19/21

A ‘significant place of public engagement’: Preservationists protest state’s efforts to sell and potentially demolish Thompson Center, Maggie Prosser, Chicago Tribune, 6/23/21

Historic sites group breaks ranks with state officials over Thompson Center; The advisory board endorsed nominating the postmodern building to the National Register of Historic Places, against the wishes of two state agencies. A listing on the register could unlock tax credits that make preservation affordable, Dennis Rodkin, Crain’s Chicago Business, 6/25/21  

State officials back Thompson Center nomination to National Historic Register; The surprise vote could allow developers to access tax incentives to save the Helmut Jahn-designed structure, Jay Koziarz, Urbanize Chicago, 6/25/21

Reprieve from wrecking ball? State panel backs historic listing for Thompson Center, adding incentives to preserve it; The Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council takes a position at odds with Gov. J.B. Pritzker and two state agencies. Listing the building on the national trust would not bar demolition, but it would make an owner who preserves it eligible for some tax breaks, David Roeder, Chicago Sun-Times, 6/25/21

Advisory council backs Thompson Center nomination to National Register of Historic Places, despite state opposition, Ryan Ori, Chicago Tribune, 6/25/21

Society of Architectural Historians Supports the Listing of the James R. Thompson Center on the National Register of Historic Places, Letter of Support, SAH News, 6/23/21

City Council approves Thompson Center zoning change; Increasing the property’s density opens the door to demolition… and perhaps adaptive reuse, Jay Koziarz, Urbanize Chicago, 5/27/21

The Thompson Center, a blend of patriotism and Postmodernism, should be a Chicago landmark, The Thompson Center brought the light in, literally, to state government. It let the people see power and it forced power to see the people, Elizabeth Blasius and Jonathan Solomon, Chicago Sun-Times Op-Ed, 5/14/21

Architect Helmut Jahn’s death reignites debate over sale of his renowned — and reviled — Thompson Center; Advocates for preserving and reusing the James R. Thompson Center plan to renew their push for landmarking it in light of the pending sale and the architect’s death. But Gov. J.B. Pritzker said it “was a building that never lived up to his creative genius,” Rachel Hinton, Chicago Sun-Times, 5/10/21

Thompson Center gets zoning change allowing for skyscraper weeks after death of its architect, Helmut Jahn, Ryan Ori, Chicago Tribune, 5/26/21

City Council Approves Thompson Center Zoning Change, Paving The Way For A Sale; The rezoning of the Helmut Jahn-designed building allows for a high-rise to be built at the property, as state leaders try to sell it to a private developer, Justin Laurence, Block Club Chicago, 5/26/21

Time for a fresh look at plans to sell the Thompson Center; The state must face that it may not get $200 million for the building. And to increase its redevelopment possibilities, reusing the building — not tearing it down — should remain an option, Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, 4/12/21

Team Pritzker must get the Thompson Center plan right; A pandemic that has drained the Loop of much of its life and called into question future demand for office space has only intensified the challenge of reimagining this colossal white elephant, Crain’s Editorial Board, 4/9/21

Downtown alderman’s move could clear way for one of city’s tallest skyscrapers on Thompson Center site, Ryan Ori, Chicago Tribune, 3/23/21

How the pandemic made a bad situation worse at the Thompson Center; It was always going to be a tough sell, but now the ghost of Block 37 looms, Danny Ecker, Crain’s Chicago Business, 4/2/21

Alderman seeks Thompson Center zoning change to tee up potential sale; The move would clear the way for a buyer to redevelop the Loop property with at least 2 million square feet of new construction, Danny Ecker, Crain’s Chicago Business, 3/23/21 

Potential demise of Chicago’s Thompson Center inches closer with proposed zoning change, Matt Hickman, The Architect’s Newspaper, 3/24/21

Sign the Petition to Save the James R. Thompson Center!


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