Don’t tear down Chicago’s Thompson Center

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Don't tear down Chicago's Thompson Center
Photo by Mobius/Flickr
Don't tear down Chicago's Thompson Center
Photo: Mobili/Flikr

I confess that I feel the sort of ambivalence toward the James R. Thompson Center as I did toward Prentice Women’s Hospital: I do understand why people want to raze it, I don’t find it pretty, I understand the functional problems.

But all the same, I believe the Thompson Center should be saved.

Chicago is an architecture city–we build our dreams, then we tear down to build new dreams. Money drives most of the creation–and most of the destruction.

If we’re lucky, those with money join those with vision. The Brooks brothers hire Burnham & Root and the resulting buildings fulfill bottom line and aesthetics alike. Chicago remains full of examples of money and vision coming together to create wonderful buildings.

But the flip side comes when money lacks vision and doesn’t recognize the power of architecture. Just another old building in the way? Let’s demolish and go for the profit. Chicago increasingly is full of examples of cheaply built, banal buildings in which money sorely lacked vision.

The impending sale of the Thompson Center–and its certain endangerment–has me thinking of the irreversible losses of H.H. Richardson’s Marshall Field Wholesale Store and Adler & Sullivan’s Stock Exchange. Many would agree that Helmut Jahn’s 1985 Thompson Center is no equal to those buildings. Yet it is one more prominent, central building by a significant architect that is considered too easily disposable. […]

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