The competition was created to give the historic State of Illinois Thompson Center new life while maintaining its architectural and public character. The brief was open to anyone with a vision for the Center, including design professionals, artists, and students.
Winning designs from Eastman Lee, Solomon Cordwell Buenz, and Perkins&Will reimagine Helmut Jahn’s endangered 1984 office building in adaptive reuse schemes that would allow for the preservation of one of Chicago’s most visible landmarks.
“These three design proposals represent distinct, exciting alternative futures for Helmut Jahn’s iconic, Postmodern masterpiece,” said Landmarks Illinois President and one of the jurors, Bonnie McDonald. “The competition proves how, with creativity, the Thompson Center has lasting value — be it through a mixed-use, civic and/or recreational destination as the winning designs imagine. The failure to protect and adapt this one-of-a-kind space would be short-sighted and rob Chicago of one of its greatest architectural achievements.”
Current plans for the Center include a proposal to add a supertall tower to the existing structure. Most of the debate surrounds the costs of maintaining the 37-yeat-old building. Some have even opined that the building should be razed rather than attempting a reuse scheme, though many in the city’s architectural community support some kind of redevelopment effort once the postponed sale of the building becomes final.
The three winners each offer common visions of public space, while finalist designs would have focused more on the building’s atrium and creating arts spaces throughout the 1.5-million-square-foot facility.
Eastman Lee’s design would place a new thermal enclosure behind the existing glass-curtain wall with a vertical neighborhood comprised of zoned residential, commercial, and rooftop garden spaces connected by biophilic elements that unite each element of the building’s newly formed “vertical loop.”
Solomon Cordwell Buen’s submission would create an academic center where Chicago-area students can come to learn about public policy and civic engagement in an homage to the Center’s original purpose as office space for the Illinois state government.
The design by Perkins + Will calls for a transformation of the space’s interior into a waterpark with active ground-level programs and an adjoining hotel.
“The Thompson Center is a significant public space in Chicago’s urban realm, and participating in this ideas competition was a tremendous opportunity to make the case for the Center’s reuse and preservation while re-imagining what public space can be,” the CAC's announcement quotes David Rader, a designer at Perkins&Will.
Jurors included industry leaders like Carol Ross Barney and Thomas Heatherwick. The winners and four finalist designs will be on view now through the end of October at a pop-up exhibit in the CAC’s East Wacker Drive galleries. A forum on the future of the Thompson Center has been planned for early November.
Additional images of the winning schemes can be viewed in the gallery below.
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