Serhii Chrucky Shoots the James R. Thompson Center for Preservation Chicago

Apr 22, 2020
Photographer Spotlight

Serhii Chrucky Preservation Chicago an exterior shot of the Thompson Center

This structure, the James R. Thompson Center, isn’t even 40 years old. Yet some of Chicago’s elected officials want what was formerly known as the State of Illinois Building to be sold because they believe repairing it will cost too much. To assist Preservation Chicago's effort to save the Thompson Center, Serhii Chrucky culled some phenomenal interior and exterior photos of the edifice. 

Serhii Chrucky Preservation Chicago an interior shot of the Thompson Center

Everyone who I spoke with at Preservation Chicago was impressed with the images. I attended the press conference where they announced the seven most endangered, and it was standing room only. The announcement also received significant press coverage.

The “seven most endangered” Serhii alludes to are the historic buildings that PC believes are at risk of being torn down. The non-profit hopes its annually-published lists — and the substantial publicity they generate — will save structures like the Thompson Center, which undoubtedly give one of the world’s great cities its uber-metropolitan feel.    

Serhii Chrucky Preservation Chicago an online tear from PC's write up

The first time I saw the Thompson Center was over twenty years ago, when I was a freshman in high school. I went to school 2.5 miles west of downtown, so my friends and I would frequently take the train in and explore.

Serhii Chrucky Preservation Chicago Crain's online tear

The atrium is obviously awe-inspiring, but my first impressions of it were as this bustling hive of activity — like a futuristic Grand Central Station.

Built by famed German-American architect Helmut Jahn in 1985, the Thompson Center draws on and combines different architectural movements.  

My favorite part of the building is how Jahn evokes the look and feeling of a classical Capitol rotunda without using any of the architectural tropes associated with that style. The essence and monumentality are there but the design vocabulary is totally unique. The way the “rotunda” is sliced at an angle is novel, almost humorous.

Serhii Chrucky Preservation Chicago the rotunda sliced at an angle

I find that Jahn’s work is interesting because it incorporates and straddles the best parts of two broad historical movements. He melds the expression of structural honesty integral to the modern movement into the playful historical references and bold, polychromatic uses of color that define the postmodern movement. Particularly in his mid-1980s work, these two movements coexist coherently.

Preservation Chicago’s article talks about the city’s previous “missteps” with regards to its untimely demolishing of other historic buildings, something that’s been happening for generations. To make matters worse, there’s no guarantee that the structures will be replaced or that the land will be used productively after the fact.

The most egregious demolitions that come to my mind were two Louis Sullivan buildings, the Garrick Theater in 1961, and the Board of Trade building in 1972. These examples are often invoked in high profile preservation battles, including the ongoing effort to save the Thompson Center. In my lifetime, the wholesale demolition of the Michael Reese Hospital campus was easily the biggest “misstep.” When Chicago was bidding on the 2016 Olympics, the city’s plan was to build the Olympic Village residential complex on the site. Even though the bid fell short, the majority of the campus was demolished anyway, and now the land sits fallow. I found that to be shameful.

This makes PC’s mission, which was picked up by numerous local media outlets like the CBS affiliate and Crain’s Chicago Business, all the more vital. Though the non-profit has successfully saved and repurposed buildings in the past, keeping the Thompson Center upright would be its most notable accomplishment.

Preservation Chicago’s biggest success stories involve adaptive reuse. One project currently under construction is the conversion of the old Cook County Hospital into a mixed-use residential/commercial/retail facility. Another large project was the conversion of a disused rug factory into a similar setup. They’ve also done a lot of work aving single family houses and churches. Nothing really on the grand scale or architectural significance of the Thompson Center. If it is saved, it would be their greatest triumph.

[Editor's Note: The James R. Thompson Center was also featured in the climactic shoot-out scene of the 1986 film "Running Scared," starring Billy Crystal (in one of his lone action films), Gregory Hines (also, a rare action film), a very scruffy Steven Bauer, Joe Pantoliano, and Dan Hedaya!]

Credits:

Executive Director, Preservation Chicago: Ward Miller
Director of Operations, Preservation Chicago: ​Adam Natenshon
Vice President, Preservation Chicago: ​Jacob Kaplan
Author, Forgotten Chicago: ​Dan Pogorzelski

Check out more of Serhii's work at serhiichrucky.com.

Check out our other great photographers on our Find Photographers page!