Matthew Kaplan Photography

"Save the Thompson Center" Rally in Chicago - June 23rd, 2021

Preservationists, architects and concerned citizens rallied in the loop Wednesday afternoon to save the 36 year old James R. Thompson Center from demolition. Considered by many a masterpiece of post-modern design, the brightly colored, glass and metal "spaceship" was built to house state offices, as well as retail and transit facilities, in its vast enclosed atrium.

Controversial from the beginning, architect Helmut Jahn's innovative conception of an open and transparent government building has come to be loved by many Chicagoans. Unfortunately, the Thompson Center is now up for sale by the state of Illinois, and a date with the wrecking ball could quickly follow. Hence the current effort to add the structure to the National Register of Historic Places, a move which is being opposed by a number of state agencies.

"We’re here today to save this building, which was built for the people and by the people of the state of Illinois" exclaimed Ward Miller of Preservation Chicago, one of the organizers of the protest, while holding a sign that asked "What would Richard Nickel do?". Photographer Nickel strove tirelessly to preserve Chicago's legacy of Louis Sullivan buildings, before his tragic death in 1972, amid the collapsing wreckage of Sullivan's great Chicago Stock Exchange.

"A diverse city deserves a diverse architecture!" declared Elizabeth Blasius of Preservation Futures, another strong advocate for giving the building landmark status, adding "the Thompson Center is a radical building!".

The Thompson Center's outdoor plaza, with its playful Dubuffet sculpture, is one of three sites in downtown Chicago where protestors can demonstrate without a permit. At present the interior atrium is closed due to pandemic restrictions.

Real estate developers are licking their lips at the thought that this three acre site in the heart of Chicago's loop might soon become available. A zoning ordinance currently before the city council, if passed, could allow the moderately scaled Thompson Center to be replaced by a tower of as many as 100 stories.

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