A proposal from designers in our Chicago studio to reimagine the James R. Thompson Center in downtown Chicago as 17-story water park and hotel is one of three winners in the 2021 Chicago Prize Competition for the possible adaptive reuse of the building that is now on the sales block. “Public Pool,” with swirling colored slides and gardens inside the soaring, curved glass façade, was selected from 59 entries across five countries, and will be on view through October at a pop-up exhibit at the Chicago Architecture Center ahead of an early November public forum discussing the future for the Thompson Center as the State of Illinois reviews the proposals for the purchase of the building.
“The Thompson Center is a significant public space in Chicago’s urban realm, and participating in this ideas competition was a tremendous opportunity to make the case for the Center’s reuse and preservation while re-imagining what public space can be,” said David Rader, who led our team. “In the context of global climate change, we as designers should seek every opportunity to reuse and repurpose existing structures instead of tearing them down.”
With its red, white, and blue tinted transparent glass, atrium and circular glass ceiling, the iconic, if controversial, Thompson Center stands out amidst both the modernist and classical buildings in Chicago’s Loop. The building—home to offices for state employees, commercial space, and a central transportation hub—also stands out for the decidedly mixed reviews it has generated since it opened in 1985. It’s either a soaring Helmut Jahn-designed post-modern gem of a civic center or a poorly ventilated and outdated structure facing huge deferred maintenance costs.