Reimagining the Thompson Center

 

blank
Public Pool  Image: ©Perkins&Will
 

 

The Chicago Architecture Club Shines the Spotlight on

Another Endangered Landmark

 

What do Bertrad Goldberg and Helmut Jahn have in common? Besides having high-profile buildings threatened by demolition, both served as subject matter for two competitions sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Club (CAC)—raising public consciousness about their impending fate. They both produced buildings in a city famous for its architecture that have been abandoned: Goldberg’s Future Prentice Women’s Hospital, demolished in 2014 after a valiant effort by preservationists to save it from the wrecking ball; and Jahn’s Thompson Center, now the object of a similar effort by the State of Illinois to sell it to a developer.

 

Looking back at the fate suffered by the Prentice Hospital after the CAC staged that competition, some might consider the decision to stage a similar event a bad omen for the future of the Thompson Center. But historical failures also have their uses; they can serve as important lessons. The Thompson Center certainly had problems leading to its probable demise; but shortcuts undertaken for the sake of budget should also be taken as a warning sign for future projects: substituting single-pane windows instead of double-pane, as specified by Jahn, no doubt was the most serious decision leading to the building’s climate problems. And fixing those and other issues would now cost at least $100M. Still, such failures should not inhibit experimentation. And the CAC Thompson Center competition also sends a message in that regard.

 

blank
Rejuvenation  Image: ©Yuqi Shao and Andrew Li (IIT)

 

The Thompson Center has always provided grist for hot discussions among Chicago architecture aficionados and beyond, The CAC even has adopted the postmodern label in describing the structure’s style, a notion that many journalists have latched onto. Strangely, some, including many in academia, have come to this conclusion, citing its departure from Mies’s minimalism across the street, or “the way it maintains the street wall on two sides, opens to a formal symmetrical plaza originally bounded by eroded columns and contains a great central interior space like city halls and state capitals. It should be seen as a reworking of classical prototypes.” (Robert Bruegmann). Still Bruegmann and many other local architects simply regard the building’s style as “modern.”

As for its style, first time visitors to the area might regard it as a breath of fresh air, at least in its heyday, much like the effect the Pompidou Centre has provided for those who first encountered the museum while first encountering it during a walk in the Beaubourg neighborhood in Paris.

 

The competition

The competition drew 59 entries from architects residing in countries around the world. Aside from the rule that the proposals be described adequately with four boards, the technical requirements were quite flexible—mainly because the entrants were to write their own program.
As for the jury, there could be no question as to the qualifications of the panel that was to adjudicate the entries:
Carol Ross Barney, FAIA, HASLA, Ross Barney Architects, Chicago
Michelle T. Boone, President, Poetry Foundation, Chicago
Philip Castillo, FAIA, Vice President, JAHN, Chicago
Peter D. Cook, AIA, NOMA, Washington, DC
Thomas Heatherwick, Heatherwick Studio, London
Mikyoung Kim, Mikjoung Kim Design, Boston

 

The final ranking included three winners and four honorable mentions. All three in the winner’s circle were from Chicago offcices, as were two of the four honorable mentions.

 

WINNERS
• “Offset: The Vertical Loop” by Tom Lee and Christopher Eastman of Eastman Lee Architects
• “One Chicago School” by Jay Longo, James Michaels, Kaitlin Frankforter, Michael Quach, Abaan Zia, Mackenzie Anderson, Nicolas Waidele, Roberta Brucato, Zachary Michaliska of Solomon Cordwell Buenz, Chicago
• “Public Pool” by David Rader, Jerry Johnson, Ryan Monteleagre, and Matt Zelensek of Perkins&Will, Chicago

HONORABLE MENTIONS
• “Rejuvenation” by Yuqi Shao and Andrew Li, students at the College of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology
• “Ripple” by Patrick Carata, Simon Cygielski, Sarah Bush, Ilyssa Kaserman, Sean King, Amparito Martinez, Marcin Rysniak, Mica Manaois, Ed Curley, and Cameron Scott of Epstein
• “There’s Something for Everyone” by Chava Danielson, Eric Haas, Tim Jordan, Bohan Charlie Lang, and Xixi Luo of DSH architecture, Los Angeles
• “Thompson-Scraper“ by Wenyi Zhu of Zhu Wenyi Atelier at Tsinghua University, Beijing

Summary
Although we did not see all of the entries, the highly ranked proposals had a creativity one might expect from a competition based solely on ideas. Had this been a competition sponsored by a real client, with a real commission in mind, only “Offset: The Vertical Loop” by Eastman Lee Architects might have represented a proposal for a serious developer—looking for a John Portman-like hotel as a model But an atrium swimming pool as a viable possibility? That would be a hard sell.

 

 

Winner (1 of 3)
“Offset: The Vertical Loop”
Tom Lee and Christopher Eastman 
Eastman Lee Architects
Chicago, Illinois

blank

blank

 

blank

blank

blank

blank
Unless otherwise noted, all above images: ©Eastman Lee Architects

 

 

 

 

Winner (2 of 3)
“Public Pool”
David Rader, Jerry Johnson, Ryan Monteleagre, and Matt Zelensek
Perkins&Will, Chicago office

blank

blank

 

blank

 

blank

 

blank
Unless otherwise noted, all above images: ©Perkins&Will

 

 

 

 

 

Winner (3 of 3)
One Chicago School
Jay Longo, James Michaels, Kaitlin Frankforter, Michael Quach, Abaan Zia, Mackenzie Anderson, Nicolas Waidele, Roberta Brucato, Zachary Michaliska
Solomon Cordwell Buenz, Chicago office

blank

 

blank
Atrium (above)

blank
Indoor parks at each level over entry (above)

blank
Street level public space with interior garden (above)

blank

Unless otherwise noted, above images ©Solomon Cordwell Buenz

 

 

Honorable Mention (1of 4)
“Rejuvenation”
Yuqi Shao and Andrew Li, students
College of Architecture
Illinois Institute of Technology
Chicago, Illinois

  blank

 blank   blank   

blank

 

 

 

 

 

Honorable Mention (2of 4)
“Ripple”
Patrick Carata, Simon Cygielski, Sarah Bush, Ilyssa Kaserman, Sean King, Amparito Martinez, Marcin Rysniak, Mica Manaois, Ed Curley, and Cameron Scott
Epstein
Chicago, Illinois

blank

blank

blank   blank

 

 

 

Honorable Mention (3 of 4)
“There’s Something for Everyone”

Chava Danielson, Eric Haas, Tim Jordan, Bohan Charlie Lang, and Xixi Luo
DSH architecture, Los Angeles

 

blank

 

blank   blank

blank

 

 

 

 

Honorable Mention (4 of 4)
“Thompson-Scraper“
Wenyi Zhu
Zhu Wenyi Atelier
Tsinghua University
Beijing, China

 

blank

 

blank  blank

 

blank

Honorable Mention images: courtesy Chicago Architectural Club