THREATENED: James R. Thompson Center / State of Illinois Building

Address: 100 W. Randolph Street
Architects: C.F. Murphy, Murphy/Jahn, Helmut Jahn
Date: 1985
Style: Post-Modern
Neighborhood: Loop

This is the third time the James R. Thompson Center/State of Illinois Building, plaza and atrium has made Preservation Chicago’s 7 Most Endangered list. However, imminent threats to the building’s future require us to spotlight it again in 2019. Since it was built in 1985, the building’s design and engineering challenges of the space have been a contentious topic for the city. However, it is an iconic representation of Post-Modern design by world-renowned architect Helmut Jahn.

SB 886 has passed the Illinois House and Senate. It sits now on Illinois Governor JB Pritzker’s desk for signature, and he has less than 60 days left to sign it. The bill lays out the process by which The Thompson Center can be sold. Preservation Chicago encourages the City of Chicago to work with the Governor and the State of Illinois to landmark this building to protect its historically significant elements. While SB 886 does not require any purchaser to retain the historic Post-Modern structure, it does ironically mandate that any future development on the property must bear in whole or in part the name of former Governor James R. Thompson.

Legislation initiated when Bruce Rauner was Illinois’ governor has now moved forward to new Governor J.B. Pritzker’s desk for signature. Former Governor Rauner projected the building could generate $300 million from the sale. 42nd Ward Alderman Brandon Reilly has doubted the validity of this projected sale price. We remain hopeful that prevailing political opinions will work to retain the building as a state-owned facility for the people of Illinois.

Preservation Chicago believes that the scale of the Thompson Center and its vast, open plaza and public interior atrium spaces add to Chicagoans’ quality of life by allowing light and air into a dense section of the Loop. If sold to the highest bidder, these benefits are almost certain to be lost. Additionally, the soaring central interior atrium was built by and for the people of the State of Illinois, and, therefore, should remain accessible to the public as a public building. Conceptual drawings that increase density but retain the historic building have been advanced by Helmut Jahn and Landmarks Illinois.

The Monument with Standing Beast sculpture located in The Thompson Center’s public plaza, was created by one of the world’s most noted Modernist artists Jean Dubuffet. It was a gift to the citizens of Chicago and Illinois and must be protected. We’ve seen important works of 20th century Chicago public art removed (Henry Bertoia’s Sonambient), whitewashed (All of Mankind mural by William Walker), destroyed (top surface mosaic of Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons), placed in storage (Alexander Calder’s The Universe) or sold at auction (Henry Moore’s Large Internal-External Upright Form). 20th century Chicago public art was a 2017 Chicago 7 Most Endangered, so it is imperative that this great Dubuffet sculpture be protected.

Our 2019 call to action is twofold: first to the City of Chicago and then to the Illinois State Legislature in Springfield and the Governor’s office.

Preservation Chicago urges the City of Chicago to move quickly to designate the Thompson Center/ State of Illinois Building as a Chicago Landmark. A Landmark designation could protect this building, plaza and public sculpture ensuring that these will be retained in any redevelopment of the site. Jahn’s career began in Chicago and is now celebrated around the world. This is a building of the people, built as a monument and open to all, with many public spaces that should be forever open to all, and efforts to both protect its architecture and vision and activate the building should be implemented.

We call on the State of Illinois to prioritize preservation into its specifications for the eventual sale of the property. As residents of the state, we understand the financial pressures that our legislature is working under. Diverting revenues from the sale the James R. Thompson Center would make a small dent in the unfunded pension deficit, but the history of Chicago’s built environment does not need to be erased to get there. There are preservation-sensitive ways to give developers the density their profit margins sometimes demand.

The State of Illinois and the City of Chicago need to work together to protect this significant building. A comprehensive redevelopment plan could correct the deferred maintenance. A tower-addition study by Helmut Jahn’s design firm has suggested that the existing building could accommodate new construction that would add square footage while remaining sensitive to the historic building, atrium and public space. As of now, we want to see the building preserved in its entirety along with its public spaces, plazas and artwork.



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