Letter Supporting the Preservation of the James R. Thompson Center / State of Illinois Building in Chicago

by SAH Heritage Conservation Committee | Mar 07, 2019

Read the Letter of Support (PDF)

The James R. Thompson Center / State of Illinois Building, designed by Helmut Jahn of Murphy/Jahn and completed in 1985, is one of Chicago’s most iconic late 20th-century buildings. It is recognized nationally as an important example of postmodern American architecture, the most significant architectural style of the 1980s and 1990s. The Thompson Center features an innovative curved façade, which was designed specifically to address the other two government buildings facing it—the modern Daley Civic Center and the classical City Hall-County Building. Together, the trio of the Thompson, Daley, and City-County Buildings and their plazas form a unique grouping of government structures that are as iconic as Times Square and as powerful a grouping as four 1920s skyscrapers at the corner of Michigan and Wacker—the Tribune Tower, Wrigley Building, 333 N. Michigan Building, and London House Chicago Hotel.

At the outset, the James R. Thompson Center with its vast atrium was a unique building type that blended governmental offices with commercial and retail offices in a single structure, with the intent to provide the State with rental revenue and to reinvigorate Chicago’s business district along Randolph and Clark Streets. Unfortunately, this intended vibrancy had a short lifespan, as the mix of occupants shifted to exclusive governmental use, public functions such as concerts were no longer scheduled, and maintenance was deferred.

Today, the building is threatened with demolition, in a situation that is developing rapidly and, for the future of the building, ominously. SAH wrote to Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker on 7 February 2019 to support the preservation of the Thompson Center, encourage local listing of the building, and stress restoration or adaptive reuse solutions over sale and demolition. In addition, on 25 February 2019, SAH signed a joint letter to with Preservation Chicago, Landmarks Illinois, and Docomomo Chicago to Gov. Pritzker encouraging preservation and local listing.

Learn more about SAH's Preservation Advocacy.

Founded in 1940, the Society of Architectural Historians is an international nonprofit membership organization that promotes the study, interpretation and conservation of architecture, design, landscapes and urbanism worldwide. SAH serves a network of local, national and international institutions and individuals who, by profession or interest, focus on the built environment and its role in shaping contemporary life. SAH promotes meaningful public engagement with the history of the built environment through advocacy efforts, print and online publications, and local, national and international programs.

SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
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Chicago, Illinois 60610