The James R. Thompson Center was controversial when it went up. And now that a lot of people want to tear it down, it’s controversial once again.
There has been much hullabaloo created by people in Springfield and also in Chicago who want to see the building sold for tear-down and redevelopment.
Part of the impetus is the fact that Illinois doesn’t have enough money to pay its bills and owes money like a meth addict in the last week of the month. It’s also fair to say that the building is dysfunctional, and always has been. Throw in a cadre of armchair architects who think it’s ugly, and you’re a falling window away from an angry torch-and-pitchfork parade.
But not everyone who gazes upon the Thompson Center’s pie chart curve and deconstructed colonnade breaks into a chorus of The Roof is on Fire. Some people see value in the building; if not for its 80’s neon floating shapes design, then at least for its history, and what it’s come to mean to Chicago.
Filmmaker Nathan Eddy is apparently one of those sympathetic souls. His 16-minute film Starship Chicago: A Film by Nathan Eddy paints the building so many people love to hate as an underdog, out of time in a ruthless era.
The film has all the things that a good modern architecture flick needs: Slow motion quadcopter footage. Blobby newspaper archive photostats. And an attention-grabbing opening. In this case, it’s Chicago architecture elderstatesman Stanley Tigerman proclaiming, “I think it’s a piece of shit.”
The board of directors at international architecture preservation group Docomomo enjoyed the film, and awarded it this year’s Advocacy Award of Excellence.
When most preservation efforts are reactionary, Nathan Eddy has taken a unique and proactive approach and sparked much needed conversation and action before a building faces demolition. Starship Chicago is thoughtful, beautiful, informative, and engaging and brings to light what a powerful medium film can be.
– Docomomo US Board of Directors
The video is certainly worth seeing, in spite of its significant audio deficiencies. You can do so here.
In the end, while Chicago is still Carl Sandburg’s “City of the Big Shoulders,” it is also a city of change.
The Thompson Center was erected and named for Governor Thompson at the height of his “Big Jim” era. But Big Jim, like so many Illinois politicians, fell hard. He did time for misusing his office — 18 counts, including racketeering and fraud. Perhaps the impending demise of his namesake building is symbolic of the rise and fall of his public life. And in an era where today’s good deeds are less important than yesterday’s sins, it may be just a sign of the times that a corrupt governor’s glass castle is erased from the skyline.