When architects get together in their buttery leather chairs and tweed jackets, sitting in front of a roaring fireplace, stuffing pipes, drinking cognac, and doing other fictional things, one of the common topics of conversation is the James R. Thompson Center. It’s become something of a parlor game to try to come up with ways — practical and impractical — of dealing with the former state office building that seems all but certain to see a wrecking ball in its glass facade in the next few years.
Before the ordinance that reverted its zoning. Before the office workers decamped for the West Loop. Before the State of Illinois decided to sell the building to someone… anyone… willing to hang the shiny blue albatross around their necks, we sat down with three Chicago architects and asked them what they thought about the troubled building and its future. Their opinions may have changed since 2015, but here’s what they said at the time, and links to their full thoughts on the subject.
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.
Those kinds of grand, public, indoor spaces nobody builds anymore because it doesn’t make any economic sense. So to tear one down would be kind of tragic in my view. I think the building has issues, but every old building has issues… The technical problems can all be fixed. We have much better technology now. Suppose, in a worst-case scenario, you were going to re-glaze the building. It’s a lot cheaper than building a new building.
In the end it’s really not that great a building. OK, there was energy. It represents an era. That’s all. And if it was some smaller site somewhere we could go and see it, that would be nice. But this is a huge block in the city of Chicago; in the middle of this vibrant, living city. People talk about reusing it. I just don’t think it would be that successful.