The Postmodern People's Palace must be repurposed, not demolished


Michele Racioppi


Docomomo US staff


Advocacy, StarshipChicago, Chicago, Thompson Center
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Update June 24, 2021

In the mid-1990s, the Illinois State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) determined that the James R. Thompson Center was eligible for listing in the State and National Register of Historic Places. It was just 10 years old. Earlier this year, Preservation Futures submitted a National Register nomination for the Thompson Center, noting the building is of exceptional significance because of its design, history and work by a major architect. Although a Determination of Eligibility and listing in the National Register would not guarantee the building is preserved, they could potentially provide an extra layer of review from the state agency and allow for input from interested parties if federal funds were involved. Last week, our coalition of advocates learned that the SHPO had retracted its determination of eligibility for the Thompson Center.

The decision is now left to the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council, the body that recommends places in Illinois to the National Register of Historic Places and also advises the State Historic Preservation Office on matters pertaining to historic preservation. They will be meeting this Friday June 25 at 10 am Central.

Docomomo US has written an individual letter in support of the nomination, as have many of our coalition advocations including Preservation Chicago and Landmarks Illinois.

Preservation advocates held a rally Wednesday in front of the Thompson Center to voice their support for preserving the Postmodern icon and to oppose the state's sale and potential demolition of the building.

To show your support, you can sign Preservation Chicago's petition and attend the Council meeting on Friday. 

The Chicago Architecture Center and Chicago Architectural Club also recently announced its 2021 Chicago Prize Competition would be a "call for new visions for the State of Illinois Center/James R. Thompson Center." The competition seeks submissions that would "give it new life while preserving its architecture and public character." Registation closes July 2 and submissions are due July 19. 


"A ‘significant place of public engagement’: Preservationists protest state’s efforts to sell and potentially demolish Thompson Center," Chicago Tribune, June 23, 2021.

"State agencies expected to oppose adding Helmut Jahn’s Thompson Center to National Register of Historic Places," The Southern Illinoisan, June 23, 2021.

January 21, 2020

A broad coalition of groups have signed on to a letter to Ernst & Young, the consultant recently selected by the State of Illinois to manage the sale of the James R. Thompson Center.

The letter states the coalition's interest in preserving the Thompson Center and urges Ernst & Young to find a responsible and qualified buyer who will commit to keeping "this Postmodern masterpiece built by Helmut Jahn."

Parties to the letter include: Docomomo US, Docomomo US/Chicago, Preservation Chicago, Landmarks Illinois, the James R. Thompson Historical Society, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, ICOMOS ISC20C, AIA Chicago, the AIA Chicago Committee on the Environment, Illinois Green Alliance, and the Chicago Chapter of the International Building Performance Simulation Association-USA.

A fact sheet attached to the letter addresses the site's historic and cultural significance, potential incentives provided by listing the Thompson Center as a historic site, cost savings, transportation advantages, reuse potential, and sustainability issues (including a graphic on the carbon impact of preservation vs demolition).

Additionally, James R. Thompson Center Historical Society has announced that it will begin drafting a National Register nomination. Although listing in the register does not prevernt demolition, it can provide a set of financial incentives through Federal and State historic tax credits. 

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