Seven Finalists Announced for Design Competition For New Visions for Helmut Jahn's State of Illinois Building


CHICAGO – The Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) and the Chicago Architectural Club have announced seven finalists for the architectural design competition calling for new, creative visions for the State of Illinois Thompson Center designed by Helmut Jahn, built in 1984 and put up for sale in May 2021. The winning design proposal will be announced Tuesday, September 14 at the opening of a pop-up exhibit featuring the winning and finalists’ designs on view at the CAC through October.

The competition seeks to give the building new life through restorative architecture while preserving its architecture and public character. The competition was open to anyone with a vision for the building including students, architects, designers, planners, and artists. The jury reviewed 59 entries from 5 countries representing work by professional designers and established firms as well as young architects and students.

The finalists include:

"The jury’s selection of the seven finalists for the 2021 Chicago Prize Competition provide an impressively diverse set of possible uses for a re-imagined space devoted to Chicago’s civic ideals," said Elva Rubio, Chicago Architecture Club co-president. "The design proposals turn the space into a new civic center with a state-of-the-art glass façade, a mixed-use development with an open-air park on the ground floor, a new Chicago Public School, a hotel and indoor waterpark, an urban farm, an art and civic culture destination with imaginative spaces suspended in the atrium, and a conical skyscraper skinned as a 3D LED screen."

"Offset: The Vertical Loop" is a mixed-use development with a new thermal envelope behind the original curtain wall that is set atop a ground-level remade as a public park within hanging gardens. Each floor is zoned, moving from public at the ground level park to private residences and vegetable gardens nearer the roof. Submitted by Tom Lee and Christopher Eastman of Eastman Lee Architects.


"One Chicago School" is a new prototype public school focused on public policy and civic engagement for students in Chicago to learn, question, and ignite change. Submitted by Jay Longo, James Michaels, Kaitlin Frankforter, Michael Quach, Abaan Zia, Mackenzie Anderson, Nicolas Waidele, Roberta Brucato, Zachary Michaliska of Solomon Cordwell Buenz, Chicago.


"Public Pool" is a hotel in place of offices ringing an indoor waterpark with monumental waterfalls dominating the atrium set in a garden. Submitted by David Rader, Jerry Johnson, Ryan Monteleagre, and Matt Zelensek of Perkins&Will, Chicago.


"Rejuvenation" wraps the existing exterior in a new “smart glass” façade using electronically tintable glass controlled by occupants to improve comfort, maximize daylight, and reduce energy costs. Exterior video projections share Chicago civic news and digital arts media. Submitted by Yuqi Shao and Andrew Li, students at the College of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology.


"Ripple" envisions a new sustainable public attraction comprisedof auditoriums, art galleries, and community spaces rising within the exterior arc of the current atrium. These new spaces lead to a top-floor urban farm with rooftop green houses that use the existing CTA tracks to distribute the produce from the farm to food deserts around the city. Submitted 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" creates an authentic new civic and social spacelinked to cultural groups across the city. Existing floor plates contain support or “back of house” spaces while the volume of the atrium will house performance stages, cinemas, arts galleries, and rehearsal spaces creating strong ties to the diverse arts and civic life of the City of Chicago. Submitted by Chava Danielson, Eric Haas, Tim Jordan, Bohan Charlie Lang, and Xixi Luo of DSH architecture, Los Angeles.



Thompson-Scraper opens the atrium to the outdoors while wrapping the interior floors above with a façade that becomes a 3D LED matrix able to display images and video. Using the existing elevator banks as a core tube support structure, new floors rise above the existing structure with the familiar step-backs and topped with a conical “spire” also wrapped in 3D LED matrix. Submitted by Wenyi Zhu of Zhu Wenyi Atelier at Tsinghua University, Beijing.


The jurors include international experts in the design of museums and civic spaces, restorative architecture and landscape architecture, historic preservation, civic culture, and the work of Helmut Jahn, architect of the Thompson Center. The jury includes 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; Bonnie McDonald, President & CEO, Landmarks Illinois.

The sale and possible demolition of the Thompson Center has been controversial among Chicagoans and architecture and design professionals around the world. Despite the toll caused by lack of maintenance, Helmut Jahn’s design of the Thompson Center is prized by the design world as a unique example of post-modern architectural design in a civic building meant to draw citizens into the daily workings of government. The State of Illinois issued a request for proposals for the Thompson Center site in August 2019. On August 17, 2021, the State of Illinois delayed the announcement of the winning bid from January to April 2022, reportedly at the request of developers submitting proposals.

“In reviewing the design proposals and selecting these seven finalists, my fellow jurors and I considered how to ‘crack open’ the ground floor of the Thompson Center and make it breathe life into the streets,” said juror Thomas Heatherwick. “The strongest proposals show how emphasizing the ground experience and creating a dynamism inside the building can become an attractor that brings a new chemistry to the city. There is such a great opportunity here to reimagine a new type of public space and again showcase Chicago as a global hub for top design.”

The CAC’s pop-up exhibit featuring the winning and finalists’ designs will join the CAC’s current Helmut Jahn retrospective Both will be open to the public through October. In July, the Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) opened its first, major limited-run exhibit, HELMUT JAHN: LIFE + ARCHITECTURE, the eagerly anticipated career retrospective of Helmut Jahn’s innovative architectural designs. The July 8 announcement of the new exhibit garnered global interest for the pathbreaking architect whose bold building designs can be found in virtually every major metropolis—from his adopted home of Chicago to Bangkok to Berlin to New York to Shanghai to Tokyo—buildings which are all part of Jahn’s enduring legacy. The exhibit, organized after Jahn’s death in May, includes numerous scale models of Jahn’s pathbreaking designs throughout his career and runs through October.

• Legacy of Helmut Jahn - January 4, 1940 - May 8, 2021

Helmut Jahn, FAIA, has earned a reputation on the cutting edge of progressive architecture. His buildings have had a “staggering” influence on architecture according to John Zukowsky, former Associate Curator of Architecture at the Art Institute of Chicago. Jahn’s buildings have received numerous design awards and have been represented in architectural exhibitions around the world.

Born in Germany, Jahn graduated from the Technische Hochschule in Munich. He came to the United States for graduate studies in architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. After attending IIT, he worked at C.F. Murphy Associates as a Project Architect under Gene Summers, designing the new McCormick Place. In 1976, his first major high-rise building in Chicago, Xerox Centre, received great critical acclaim.

Jahn has been called Chicago’s premier architect who has dramatically changed the face of Chicago. His national and international reputation has led to commissions across the United States, Europe, Africa, and Asia. His projects have been recognized globally for design innovation, vitality, and integrity. Featured in numerous publications, his work has generated much excitement amongst the press and general public alike.

Jahn’s work has been included in exhibits worldwide since 1980. He has taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was the Elliot Noyes Professor of Architectural Design at Harvard University and the Davenport Visiting Professor of Architectural Design at Yale University, and Thesis Professor at IIT.

• About the State of Illinois “James R. Thompson Center”

Designed by Helmut Jahn, the State of Illinois Center, also known as James R. Thompson Center, is facing the threat of complete demolition. Located in the Chicago “Loop” it is a major transportation node, commercial center, and workspace. The building has been criticized for being ugly, oversized, inefficient, and poorly maintained. However, the Thompson Center has been pivotal to urban transit and a highly democratic contemporary civic center. At the time of its construction in 1985, Helmut Jahn’s State of Illinois Center was a stark contrast to Chicago’s historic and modernist architecture, yet today it is an architectural icon in its own right. For the fourth year in a row, the Thompson Center has been listed in the Landmarks Illinois’ annual Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois and it was included in Preservation Chicago’s Chicago 7 Most Endangered list in 2018, 2019, and 2020.