The State of Illinois has just signed the James R. Thompson Center up for another year of public service. According to projections introduced in the Illinois Fiscal Policy Report, the state has removed the sale of the Thompson Center from the list of planned sources of revenue for 2019. The report estimates the value of the potential sale to the state to be $300 million. Culturally and aesthetically contentious since it landed in Chicago’s North Loop in 1985, the Thompson Center, formerly the State of Illinois Building, has become an emblematic figure of the timely realities tied to preserving postmodernism. This challenge has proven traditional historic preservation practices to be ineffective, forcing the field to find new ways to define value for structures that lack the traditional bells and whistles of historic architecture, and putting the field in a situation where collaboration and creativity are key. Thirty years after designing the Thompson Center, architect Helmut Jahn worked with Landmarks Illinois to develop a super tower for a corner of the site on the heels of the Thompson Center’s inclusion into the organization’s yearly list of threatened buildings. In September, Preservation Chicago, working with Starship Chicago filmmaker Nathan Eddy, brought in Shea Couleé of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame for a lunchtime rally to drum up interest in landmarking the structure. The news of the sale’s delay into 2020 puts the future of the Thompson Center in the hands of governor-elect J.B. Pritzker, who toppled first term incumbent Bruce Rauner in November. While Rauner has been vocal about his desire to sell the Thompson Center, Pritzker has not made any statements regarding the sale of the structure. Postponing the sale will also make aspects of the Thompson Center the responsibility of Chicago’s next mayor. While the structure is owned by the state, it sits atop a vital matrix of public transit infrastructure that would be inevitably disrupted if the structure changed hands. While outgoing mayor Rahm Emanuel has stated that he would block the sale of the Thompson Center because of this, no candidate in the large field of mayoral hopefuls has addressed similar intentions—or any intentions—regarding the structure.
Posts tagged with "Thompson Center":
In conjunction with its annual list of endangered buildings, Landmarks Illinois has released a series of renderings that reimagines Helmut Jahn’s James R. Thompson Center with enhanced public space, while playing up its potential for adaptive re-use with an addition of a super tower. Proposed by Jahn’s office in 2017, the super-tower is shown poised at the southwest corner of the structure, maximizing the Thompson Center’s zoning and revenue potential while minimizing the impact of the additional construction on the interior atrium, the most significant aspect of the building's provocative design. The tower could accommodate office spaces, a hotel, residencies or a combination of all three. Constructed to provide a visible state government presence in Chicago, the James R. Thompson Center, originally the State of Illinois Building, was lauded by critics, ordinary Chicagoans and users of the building when it was completed in 1985. The building was hyperactive, wildly over budget and required extensive retrofits in order for it to keep state employees from frying beneath the extensive plate glass and subdued red, white and blue paneling. Illinois governor Bruce Rauner has called for selling off the building and demolishing it numerous times, viewing the land the Thompson Center sits on as a more valuable commodity than the building itself. The redevelopment of the building as proposed by Landmarks Illinois retains the use of the building as a nexus point for multiple CTA public transit lines, restores the exterior granite panels and complementary columns, and demonstrates how a creative developer could take advantage of the 20 percent federal historic tax credits via a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The James R. Thompson Center is making a repeat appearance on Landmarks Illinois's Most Endangered Places in Illinois list for a second year in a row, one of only four sites in the organization’s history to be listed multiple times.
The nonprofit MAS Context is hosting the international digital premier of Starship Chicago: A Building on the Brink, a documentary by Nathan Eddy, chronicling the oft-misunderstood Helmut Jahn–designed James R. Thompson Center. The film was premiered at the Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam, with a U.S. premiere at the fall MAS Context: Analog event in Chicago. Later it was shown at the New Urbanism Film Festival in Los Angeles, and the Architecture and Design Film Festival in New York. The one-week showing on the MAS Context website runs through November 12, and it's the first time the 16-minute film can be streamed online. “I love these buildings, and I don’t think these buildings are appreciated. Helmut Jahn told me while making the documentary, 'At some point every artist just makes a lot of noise.’ I know how to make a lot of noise,” filmmaker Nathan Eddy told The Architect's Newspaper (AN). “That is the only way that people will pay attention in this day and age. I’m a controversy builder. I do these things because I cannot help myself.” Completed in 1985, the Thompson Center is the hub of Illinois state government in the City of Chicago. From the moment it was constructed, it has turned heads and sparked debate. Today, the current governor, Bruce Rauner, has been adamant about his intentions to see the building either demolished or converted into a private property. Starship Chicago interviews many of Chicago’s most influential architectural thinkers to discuss the construction, legacy, and future of the iconic structure. The documentary includes conversations with James R. Thompson, the former governor who commissioned the building, the building’s architect, Helmut Jahn, architecture critics Blair Kamin and Lynn Becker, and architects Chris-Annmarie Spencer and Stanley Tigerman, among others. Starship Chicago is the second short film by producer-director Nathan Eddy, whose first film, The Absent Column, covered the preservation battle for the eventually demolished Bertrand Goldberg–designed Prentice Women’s Hospital. Starship Chicago is the first vocal step in beginning the conversation about saving the Thompson Center, and Eddy is active in preservation battles elsewhere. Recently, he has led the charge to protect the Philip Johnson and John Burgee–designed AT&T Building in New York, whose granite facade could be replaced with glass in a Snøhettta-led redesign. “I have one method, which is 'WAKE UP!!!' All caps with three exclamation points,” Eddy said, discussing the differences between The Absent Column and the Thompson Center film. “After Prentice, we made a great film that tried to appeal to people on an emotional level that would be poignant. That didn’t work and that sucked. When we were doing the film about the Thompson Center, we needed to re-evaluate the way we were going to make people wake up. So, I wanted to make the first comedic architecture documentary.” Of the famed and derided atrium of the Thompson Center, former governor James R. Thomson remembers in the film discussions surrounding space. “I heard a lot of criticism at the time saying, ‘Boy, that is a lot of wasted space.' And I would usually say something like ‘Well, would you like me to fill up the building with bureaucrats?’ So, it is not a wasted space, it’s a celebration of space.” The film can be seen in its entirety exclusively on the MAS Context website.
In an act of political wrangling that typifies the relationship between the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner announced that if the city would allow the sale of the Helmut Jahn–designed James R. Thompson Center, he would provide the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) with additional funding. Last week Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that he would block the sale of the postmodern building out of fear of having to replace the large CTA subway station beneath it. Over the past few years, the city and state have played tug-of-war over funding for the often-beleaguered public school system. In his address, Governor Rauner promised to provide an additional $45 million a year through 2040 if the city permitted the sale of the building. It was only a few months ago that Rauner has vetoed a bill that would have provided $215 million to CPS’s pension fund. The battle over the Thompson Center officially began back in October 2015, when Rauner announced his intention to sell the building. He called the building “ineffective,” and “just not useable for much of anything.” The building is facing a deferred maintenance bill of over $100 million and costs the state roughly $12 million a year to operate. Despite that cost, the building contains one of the largest interior public civic spaces in the city, and many fear selling the building to a private developer would be a major loss for the city.
ILLINOIS GOVERNOR RAUNER ANNOUNCES STATE’S PLAN TO SELL CHICAGO’S POSTMODERN ICON. (Photo by Rainer Viertlboeck) Hot on the heels of round table discussions of the preservation of Postmodern monuments at the Chicago Architecture Biennial. One of Chicago’s most iconic and controversial Postmodern landmarks finds itself on unsure footing. The James R. Thompson Center, designed by Helmut Jahn and constructed in 1985, was the site of a press conference held by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner to announce the proposed sale of the building. According to Rauner the building is “ineffective” as an office space for state government, and was “just not useable for much of anything.” Standing in the grand circular public atrium, Rauner focused on the financial burden of the building and the financial possibilities of razing the structure. According to the Governor the building has a deferred maintenance bill of over $100 million, and costs the state upwards of $12 million in operating costs every year. Conversely he speculated that a new development could produce 8,000 new construction jobs and $20 million a year in tax revenue. His comments on the architecture of the building were limited except to say it would “not cost much to take down.” He left the judgement to of the buildings aesthetic to the “eye of the beholder.” Having been previously notified by the Governor’s office of the impending sale, architect Helmut Jahn responded in writing on Tuesday. Jahn was critical of the subsequent administrations since that of Governor James R. Thompson, the original client and building namesake, for not upholding the “vision… of building a symbol for the openness and transparency of the state government, an active urban center, and a lively urban and public place.” In his letter, Jahn seemed resigned to the fact that there was little chance the state government would save the building. Instead he optimistically offered a path forward for the building through repurposing. He stated, “This requires upgrades to the retail and foodservice, marketing the large floor plates to innovative tech-companies…adding 24 hour uses… making it the most exciting place in the city.” In the past, other possible reuse plans have been put forward for the building to little avail, including a proposed casino. Governor Rauner’s hope is to sell the site within the year to the highest bidder in a public auction. Considering the building's location and access to public transportation, having multiple train stops in and under the building, it is expected to fetch a large sum. With that said, government land has not always found the anxious buyers it anticipates in Chicago. The South Loop’s U.S. Post Office being a case in point. And though the final story has not been written about this intensely maligned building, it is looking as though the city may soon be losing a large interior public space of architectural significance.
The Thompson Center is an easy target. Most Chicagoans only know it as that Po-Mo Behemoth where we transfer between L lines and occasionally visit the DMV in the basement food court, perhaps the only location in America where you can get a slice of Sbarro and a new driver’s license. It’s a beast of a building—so bad, it’s almost good—and has been plagued with problem after problem, most recently the removal of the granite panels along the plaza. Tackling its so obviously deferred maintenance and adapting it for future use would be no small task. That’s why, according to the Sun-Times, the president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and a major labor chief have proposed building a casino in the lower level and first floor of the building. When we think of downtown casinos, we think of Detroit. Look, Eavesdrop loves Detroit and is rooting for its revival on a daily basis, but Chicago doesn’t want to be using Detroit as its urban development role model. If this nutty scheme comes to fruition, there would be a casino in a building located across from City Hall, which also houses hundreds of state government employees. They better get ready to beef up their Employee Assistance Program, as the state might have a few more gambling addicts on their payroll.