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A Downtown Water Park? In Fight To Save Thompson Center, Architecture Buffs Share Bold New Ideas For Building

The state has the Thompson Center up for sale, and a skyscraper could end up replacing it. Preservationists hope someone will save it — and maybe adopt some of their unique ideas for the site.

A reimagined Thompson Center would include the “Public Pool” by David Rader, Jerry Johnson, Ryan Monteleagre and Matt Zelensek of Perkins & Will.
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DOWNTOWN — Bold new ideas for the endangered James R. Thompson Center were revealed this week, as preservationists hope to convince the state — and maybe some deep-pocketed architecture buffs — to save the unique building.

The Chicago Architecture Center and the Chicago Architectural Club held a contest calling for ideas on how to save and reuse the building, which has housed state offices since 1984.

Winners of the contest suggested turning the Helmut Jahn-designed building into an indoor water park, a rooftop farm, or even a public school that focuses on public policy and civic engagement.

All of the ideas are long shots. The state has wanted to sell the building to raise cash for its depleted coffers since Gov. Bruce Rauner was in office. It’s up for sale and could end up being replaced by a skyscraper. But building preservationists are holding out hope that it can be saved. The state is accepting proposals to acquire the site through Oct. 8, the Sun-Times reported.

The competition was open to anyone including students, architects, designers, planners, and artists.

A jury of leading experts in design reviewed 59 entries that were submitted across five countries. The winning design proposal will be announced on Sept. 14. Though these proposals may not become reality, winners will receive cash prizes.

Here are the finalists:

  1. “Offset: The Vertical Loop” by Tom Lee and Christopher Eastman of Eastman Lee Architects

2. “One Chicago School” by Jay Longo, James Michaels, Kaitlin Frankforter, Michael Quach, Abaan Zia, Mackenzie Anderson, Nicolas Waidele, Roberta Brucato and Zachary Michaliska of Solomon Cordwell Buenz.


3. “Public Pool” by David Rader, Jerry Johnson, Ryan Monteleagre and Matt Zelensek of Perkins & Will.

Credit: Provided

4. “Rejuvenation” by Yuqi Shao and Andrew Li, architecture students at IIT.


5. “Ripple” by Patrick Carata, Simon Cygielski, Sarah Bush, Ilyssa Kaserman, Sean King, Amparito Martinez, Marcin Rysniak, Mica Manaois, Ed Curley and Cameron Scott of Epstein.


“There’s Something for Everyone” by Chava Danielson, Eric Haas, Tim Jordan, Bohan Charlie Lang and Xixi Luo of DSH architecture, Los Angeles.


“Thompson-Scraper” by Wenyi Zhu of Zhu Wenyi Atelier at Tsinghua University, Beijing.


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