In October Governor Bruce Rauner announced plans for the State of Illinois to sell the Thompson Center (100 West Randolph Street), possibly for demolition and redevelopment. We spent the last few weeks talking to a dozen Chicago architects and developers about what they think of the building and its predicament.
Today we hear from Martin Wolf, Design Principal at Chicago architecture firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz. Unfortunately, our conversation got off-topic, so we never really explored what he’d do with the Thompson Center if he could. But his memories of the project are worth reading.
Martin Wolf: I gotta tell you, when I started working for Murphy/Jahn, or C.F. Murphy, whatever it was back in the day, that was an exhilarating looking building. Maybe not so much from the exterior, but from the inside. And upon completion, I walked into that building and thought, “Oh my God, this is fantastic!”
Now, I don’t know if it made for a great office building or a great workplace. But just as a space, in Chicago, which didn’t really have a great interior space that the public could enjoy year-round — that was the place to go. Because it had the food court, and even if you were only in the lower level, you could still look up and become part of that experience.
The materials haven’t held up all that well. Maybe the design hasn’t held up all that well. The systems… probably not. But still, it has a place in my heart.
Editor: So many of the people who worked on that building describe the working environment as dynamic and spontaneous and interesting. Is the architecture trade more corporate these days?
Wolf: I think so. I don’t think that there’s the energy that we used to stoke the fires back in the 70’s and 80’s. Corporate architecture has fallen by the wayside. There is not a C.E.O. alive who will stick his neck out and say, “I want a great monument to my company,” because they have to answer to the stockholders. And it’s really very difficult for these people to come up with iconic architecture because they’re always looking at the bottom line, more and more and more.