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The iconic Helmut Jahn-designed State of Illinois Thompson Center is under threat of demolition. In this free pop-up exhibit in the CAC lobby, the global architecture community shows possible reuses that avoid the wrecking ball.

CAC has teamed with the Chicago Architectural Club to organize an international ideas competition in response to the potential demolition of the Thompson Center. The State of Illinois is currently looking to identify a buyer for this iconic government building in downtown Chicago designed by the late architect Helmut Jahn.

The sale and possible razing of the Thompson Center has been controversial among Chicagoans and architecture and design professionals around the world. The building has been criticized for being ugly, oversized, inefficient, and poorly maintained. Despite it all, Jahn’s scheme for the Thompson Center (completed in 1985) is still prized as a unique example of Postmodern architectural design in a civic building meant to draw citizens into the daily workings of government. Its spectacular 17-story glass atrium is the largest covered public space in downtown Chicago.

This free pop-up exhibit in the CAC lobby features renderings and videos of the winning and finalists’ designs that celebrate a wide variety of potential reuses for the building—from an arts and culture hub to an urban farm to a new home for a Chicago Public School devoted to public policy and civic engagement, even a hotel and indoor waterpark. The exhibit also includes Jahn’s dazzling vision for a fully renovated Center with an adjoining 110-story tower seamlessly integrated into the original design.

Curation and Contributing Partners

The 2021 Chicago Prize Competition exhibition is curated and designed by the Chicago Architectural Club and the Chicago Architecture Center exhibition team.

Many thanks to all participating firms and to contributing partners Nathan Eddy and the office of JAHN.

A special acknowledgement to our competition jurors:
Carol Ross Barney, Founder and Design Principal, Ross Barney Architects, FAIA, HASLA; Michelle T. Boone, President, The Poetry Foundation; Philip Castillo, Executive Vice President, JAHN, FAIA; Peter D. Cook, Design Principal, HGA Architects & Engineers, AIA, NOMA; Thomas Heatherwick, Founder and Design Director, Heatherwick Studio; Mikyoung Kim, Founding Principal, Mikyoung Kim Design; and Bonnie McDonald, President & CEO, Landmarks Illinois.