THREATENED: Facade and Atrium Demolition Permit Released for Thompson Center (Chicago 7 2016, 2018, 2019 & 2020)

Front page of the Chicago Tribune Business section regarding the facade demolition permit for the James R. Thompson Center, 1985, Helmut Jahn, 100 W. Randolph Street. Image Credit: Chicago Tribune
James R. Thompson Center, 1985, Helmut Jahn, 100 W. Randolph Street. Photo Credit: Serhii Chrucky
James R. Thompson Center, 1985, Helmut Jahn, 100 W. Randolph Street. Photo Credit: Serhii Chrucky
Starship Chicago II, a documentary film by Nathan Eddy. (40:30) Image credit: Starship Chicago II

“The city has granted permits to demolish the exterior and atrium of the Thompson Center — a critical early step in Google’s $280 million efforts to remake the former state government building into the company’s Chicago headquarters.

“Under permits issued Oct. 13, 2023 by the Department of Buildings, Google will — at minimum — remove the metal and glass skin on the 17-story structure at 100 W. Randolph St. and on its soaring, trademark atrium as well.

“The move isn’t a complete surprise. Renderings released after the tech giant’s takeover of the building last year show prospective views of the renovated edifice with new exterior and interior glazing that either abandoned or muted the building’s current blue, salmon and white color scheme — one of its signature features — and other architectural details.

“A Google spokesperson had no comment Tuesday on the project, other than to say a formal announcement could be made within weeks.

“Completed in 1985 and designed by architect Helmut Jahn, the zoomy, spaceshiplike building received mixed reactions from Chicagoans from the start. On the one hand, it was praised for its forward-looking architecture and the generous atrium space that acted as an enclosed public square.

“But the building was plagued by construction cost cutbacks that resulted in the use of cheap-looking materials, window leaks, and an initial heating and lighting air conditioning system that failed to work properly.

“Years of deferred maintenance only worsened the problems and made the building more expensive to operate. Previous Illinois governors Rod Blagojevich and Bruce Rauner unsuccessfully tried to sell the building to any developer willing to wreck the structure in favor of a new privately owned office tower.

“But current Gov. J.B. Pritzker in 2022 managed to preserve the building — or perhaps most of it — by selling it to Google for $105 million. The company would then convert the building into a headquarters for 2,000 of its employees.

“Jahn died in a 2021 bicycle accident. Neither Google nor representatives of Jahn — which is now the name of the architecture firm leading the renovation — would provide any details of the planned work. But the task will likely include replacing the building’s single-paned glass facades with ones that are more energy-efficient.

“Preservation Chicago said it wants Google and the city to protect the Thompson Center by granting the building landmark status.

“‘It’s time to recognize the significance of the work of Helmut Jahn, and this building that placed him on the world’s stage,” said Preservation Chicago Executive Director Ward Miller.

“‘To further ignore this situation and risk the loss of the design concept and significant features, would once again be an embarrassment to the city of Chicago and its architecture legacy,’ Miller said.” (Bey, Chicago Sun-Times, 10/17/23)

“Continued demolition and remodeling might significantly alter the historic building, said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, a nonprofit group focused on protecting historically significant architectural structures.

“‘From what we’re seeing, there’s a chance that this building could really lose its integrity and look like a mylar balloon if we’re not careful,” Miller said.

“The Thompson Center is one of Chicago’s most important architectural marvels, Miller argued. It was one of the first major projects by the star architect Jahn and has become an important city landmark, he said. Miller praised JRTC and Google’s decision not to demolish the building but criticized them for not sharing more recent renderings. He called on local officials including Mayor Brandon Johnson to encourage the companies to maintain the building’s character.

“A ‘sensitive repurposing’ doesn’t have to adversely affect the building, he said. He shared hopes the redevelopment would maintain the building’s plaza, colors and atrium.

“‘We could save everything that’s important. It could still be renovated and look like it’s brand new,’ he said. (Sheridan, Chicago Tribune, 10/18/23)

Read the full story at Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune


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