There is no shortage of opinions about what to do with The Thompson Center, sulking at 100 West Randolph Street like that sad, oversized kitten that nobody wants quietly mewing in the corner of the viewing room at PAWS.
In our off-the-record conversations with Chicago architects over the last 18 years, sentiment has shifted from balanced pessimism to outright exasperation in some quarters. In 2003, we’d say the demolish/renovate ratio was about 50/50. Today, it’s more like 80/20.
But that 20% isn’t going out without a fight. The Chicago Architecture Club and the Chicago Architecture Center have announced a new competition to come up with a solution for the Thompson Center. And by “solution” we mean a way to fix the office building, not a copy machine marketed as an “office solution.”
In a press release from the CAC, and the other CAC:
The competition seeks to give the building new life through restorative architecture while preserving its architecture and public character.
If you think you’ve got a good idea, you can see the full rules and details at the CAC’s web site, not the CAC’s web site. If your idea is the brightest, you could win $1,500 smackers, and the satisfaction of knowing you were on the right side of history.
It’s worth looking at a little history here. Lots of people think the Thompson Center is as ugly as the hair curling out of Aunt Betty’s left cheek mole. But not that long ago, lots of people thought that Cloud Gate was the worst thing to happen to Chicago since a cow got nocturnal leg cramps. Now The Bean is more symbolic of the city than dragging a hot dog through the garden. And remember when people thought the Chicago Stock Exchange building had to go? Its demolition started a wave of architectural preservation in the city, and what’s left of it is still on display in Grant Park.
The chattering masses are terrible at knowing what is worth keeping and what should be torn down. Parisians hated the Eiffel Tower when it was built. Now they’d sooner do without room temperature eggs than erase that landmark from their skyline. Just because someone’s voice is loud, doesn’t mean they’re right. The empty wagon is the noisiest wagon.