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James R. Thompson Center
100 W. Randolph Street
Chicago, Illinois

Murphy/Jahn 1985
Lester B. Knight & Associates, associate architects.

"Very controversial" doesn’t begin to capture the outrageousness of Murphy/Jahn’s design. The Center manages to use pastel colors and Jean Dubuffet’s "Monument with Standing Beast" to introduce you to a government center that confirms your worst fears about where your tax dollars are going: overheated and underventilated, noisy, visually overwhelming, and, damn it all, strangely beautiful in its own exposed momentum.

Elevators are free-standing; escalator gears are revealed--swift and silent machinations abound. In a country with such a dismal voter participation rate, the aggressive exploration of democratic governmental ideals in spatial metaphor is impressive, even if the aesthetic experience is unsettling.


thomp1.jpg (31413 bytes) Another unsettling, but more rewarding, aspect of the Thompson Center is coming upon it through the orthogonal dignity of the Daley Civic Center: it seems as though a UFO has landed amidst the upstanding international-style and neo-classical buildings. A big, cheerful, shiny UFO.

Helmut Jahn has done much work in Chicago, including the United Airlines terminal at O’Hare airport and the downtown Savings of America Tower.


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Christy Rogers, 1998


How to visit

Downtown Chicago is best negotiated by foot or train. The closest loop stop is Clark.

The Thompson Center houses more than 50 state agencies and hosts artworks from the State of Illinois Art-in-Architecture program.



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