Preserving Thompson Center Should Be First Option, Says Landmarks Illinois President

The Thompson Center.

The Thompson Center.

Following Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s announcement last week that he plans to sell the Thompson Center, and that demolishing it may be necessary (to take advantage of the hot Loop real estate market), the building’s architect Helmut Jahn weighed in, saying repurposing the structure would be a better outcome.

Jahn said the building does need upgrades, but it could definitely be improved and re-purposed for any number of potential uses, whether that would be office or residential space, retail or foodservice.

Adaptive reuse is, of course, the name of the game for many buildings in Chicago. It’s worked quite well for the burgeoning West Loop, and it could for the Thompson Center as well. The building is unquestionably in disrepair and needs work, but it’s not without its admirers. In fact it was the winner of the 1986 Distinguished Building Award from AIA Chicago.

Bonnie McDonald, president of Landmarks Illinois.

Bonnie McDonald, president of Landmarks Illinois.

The ideal of repurposing the unique spaceship design of the building—as opposed to tearing it down and putting up a generic tower—was echoed by another expert in the field, Bonnie McDonald, president of Landmarks Illinois. The Chicago Architecture Blog caught up with McDonald at a ceremony honoring the organization’s Driehaus Foundation Preservation Awards last weekend.

McDonald said talk of demolishing the building is both premature and inappropriate.

“Our perspective is that there should be a public process to discuss the sale of the Thompson Center,” McDonald said.

Even floating the idea of a teardown misses the point of the goals of preservation, she said.

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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