A Design Competition Imagines A New Future For A Chicago Icon

One of seven finalists: “Thompson-Scraper“ opens the atrium to the outdoors while wrapping the interior floors above with a façade that becomes a 3D LED matrix able to display images and video. New floors rise above the existing structure with the familiar step-backs and topped with a conical spire. Submitted by Wenyi Zhu of Zhu Wenyi Atelier at Tsinghua University, Beijing.

One of seven finalists: “Thompson-Scraper“ opens the atrium to the outdoors while wrapping the interior floors above with a façade that becomes a 3D LED matrix able to display images and video. New floors rise above the existing structure with the familiar step-backs and topped with a conical spire. Submitted by Wenyi Zhu of Zhu Wenyi Atelier at Tsinghua University, Beijing.

Designed by Helmut Jahn, the State of Illinois Center, also known as James R. Thompson Center, was put up for sale in May and is facing the threat of complete demolition. Once criticized for being ugly, oversized, inefficient, and poorly maintained, today the building is considered an architectural icon, and is a major transportation node as well as a commercial and civic center.

To change the narrative around this important structure, the Chicago Architecture Center (CAC), and the Chicago Architectural Club have announced seven finalists in an architectural design competition calling for new, creative visions for the building. The winning design proposal will be announced at an exhibit featuring the winning designs, and will be on view alongside the CAC exhibition, Helmut Jahn: Life + Architecture, a career retrospective of the architect’s life and work. Jahn, who passed away in May 2021, has been called one of Chicago’s premier architects and his work is seen all over the world.

The competition was open to students, architects, designers, planners, and artists, and the jury reviewed 59 entries from five countries. The jurors include international experts in the design of museums and civic spaces, restorative and landscape architecture, historic preservation, civic culture, and the work of Helmut Jahn. The jury includes Carol Ross Barney, Founder and Design Principal, Ross Barney Architects; Michelle T. Boone, President, The Poetry Foundation; Philip Castillo, Executive Vice President, JAHN; Peter D. Cook, Design Principal, HGA Architects & Engineers; Thomas Heatherwick, Founder and Design Director, Heatherwick Studio; Mikyoung Kim, Founding Principal, Mikyoung Kim Design; Bonnie McDonald, President & CEO, Landmarks Illinois.

“In selecting these seven finalists, we considered how to crack open the ground floor of Thompson Center and breathe life into the streets,” explains Thomas Heatherwick. “The strongest proposals show how emphasizing the ground experience and creating a dynamism inside can bring a new chemistry to the city. There is such a great opportunity here to reimagine a new type of public space and showcase Chicago as a global hub for top design.”

“There’s Something for Everyone” creates an authentic new civic and social space linked to cultural groups across the city. The atrium will house performance stages, cinemas, art galleries, and rehearsal spaces creating strong ties to the diverse arts and civic life of the City of Chicago. Submitted by Chava Danielson, Eric Haas, Tim Jordan, Bohan Charlie Lang, and Xixi Luo of DSH architecture, Los Angeles.

“Public Pool” is a hotel in place of offices ringing an indoor waterpark with monumental waterfalls in an atrium set in a garden. Submitted by David Rader, Jerry Johnson, Ryan Monteleagre, and Matt Zelensek of Perkins&Will, Chicago.

“One Chicago School” is a new prototype public school focused on public policy and civic engagement for students in Chicago to learn, question, and ignite change. Submitted by Jay Longo, James Michaels, Kaitlin Frankforter, Michael Quach, Abaan Zia, Mackenzie Anderson, Nicolas Waidele, Roberta Brucato, Zachary Michaliska of Solomon Cordwell Buenz, Chicago.

“Ripple” envisions a new sustainable public attraction comprised of auditoriums, art galleries, and community spaces rising within the exterior arc of the current atrium. These new spaces lead to a top-floor urban farm and green houses that use the existing CTA tracks to distribute the produce from the farm to food deserts around the city. Submitted by Patrick Carata, Simon Cygielski, Sarah Bush, Ilyssa Kaserman, Sean King, Amparito Martinez, Marcin Rysniak, Mica Manaois, Ed Curley, and Cameron Scott of Epstein.

“Offset: The Vertical Loop” is a mixed-use development with a thermal envelope behind the original curtain wall. The ground level is remade as a public park within hanging gardens. The building is public at the ground level park and includes private residences and vegetable gardens nearer the roof. Submitted by Tom Lee and Christopher Eastman of Eastman Lee Architects.

“Rejuvenation” wraps the existing exterior in a smart façade using tintable glass controlled by occupants to improve comfort, maximize daylight, and reduce energy costs. Exterior video projections share Chicago civic news and digital arts media. Submitted by Yuqi Shao and Andrew Li, students at the College of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology.

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