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

Thompson Center reimagined as “Public Pool” by David Rader, Jerry Johnson, Ryan Monteleagre and Matt Zelensek of Perkins & Will as presented in Chicago Architecture Club’s Thompson Center Competition. Photo Credit: Chicago Architecture Club
“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

“How about turning the James R. Thompson Center into a waterpark resort, complete with thrilling waterfalls? Or adding a conical spire to showcase 3D LED images? Maybe its glass skin could be tinted, with occupants controlling it for their comfort.

“Those were among the proposals chosen as finalists in a competition for ideas to reuse the longtime hub for state government at 100 W. Randolph St. The distinctive product of the late architect Helmut Jahn and regarded by many as landmark-worthy is an asset the state wants to sell, raising the specter of its demolition.

“Seven proposals for saving the 17-story building were named finalists Tuesday in a competition sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Center and the Chicago Architectural Club. A jury of leading experts in design and preservation chose the finalists from 59 entries. A winner will be announced Sept. 14.

“Thomas Heatherwick, founder of Heatherwick Studio and a member of the competition’s jury, said a main concern was ‘how to ‘crack open’ the ground floor of the Thompson Center and make it breathe life into the streets. The strongest proposals show how emphasizing the ground experience and creating a dynamism inside the building can become an attractor that brings a new chemistry to the city. There is such a great opportunity here to re-imagine a new type of public space and again showcase Chicago as a global hub for top design.’

“Whether any plan has a chance at implementation rests with Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the private market. The state has not pledged to consider any preservation ideas and is motivated to get top dollar from someone who would replace it with a high-rise. But private interests, their calculations upset by the pandemic, may be reluctant to assume the risk.

“The state has extended until Oct. 8 its deadline for proposals to acquire the site. It has said it wants to execute a sale by February 2022.” (Roeder, Chicago Sun-Times, 8/24/21)

Read the full story at Chicago Sun-Times

Splash and flash: Ideas emerge for repurposing the Thompson Center; Contestants in a design contest imagine the Helmut Jahn building with a waterpark, a rooftop farm, new civic uses and as a display of 3D LED wizardry, David Roeder, Chicago Sun-Times, 8/24/21

A Downtown Water Park? In Fight To Save Thompson Center, Architecture Buffs Share Bold New Ideas For Building; The state has the Thompson Center up for sale, and a skyscraper could end up replacing it. Preservationists hope someone will save it — and maybe adopt some of their unique ideas for the site, Giovanni Velez, Block Club Chicago, 8/25/21

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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