Can the Documentary “Starship Chicago” Save the Thompson Center from Demolition?

Opening in 1985, Helmut Jahn’s Thompson Center became home for various agencies of the State of Illinois, with its design playing off of the designs of more traditional American statehouse. For example, the glass walls symbolize government transparency and the large atrium space compared to that of most US statehouses. Additionally, the structure’s short, sloped glass curtain wall with a protruding truncated cylinder structure on top stands out from the rectilinear skyscrapers that make up downtown Chicago’s skyline. The design attracted controversy as its unusual form and immense atrium made the building a constant focus for negative press for the last 30+ years, however the city gradually became accustomed to the Thompson’s Center’s unique presence and see it as a symbol of pride and a celebration of Chicago being the architecture capital of the world (and, personal opinion, it is).

Courtesy of Nathan Eddy
Courtesy of Nathan Eddy

However, the Thompson Center is currently having issues, common in the world of architecture and older buildings, regarding upkeep and maintenance (now requiring roughly $327 million of repairs due to its continued neglect) as the red, white and blue paint peels, the marble wears away, and the value of its location (in real-estate terms). Because of this, many people — including Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who both want to sell the building — just want this city landmark be demolished.

Courtesy of Nathan Eddy

Nathan Eddy’s 16-minute documentary short, Starship Chicago, which debuted at the Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam, tells the story of the Thompson Center and its fight for repair and preservation. The film has interviews with the building’s archtiect Helmut Jahn, former Illinois Governor James R Thompson, and other prominent Chicago architects, critics, and preservationists who express their views on the iconic building’s past and future.

Courtesy of Nathan Eddy

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