Google Unveils New Rendering of Thompson Center Renovation, Says the Atrium is Staying

New rendering of the planned changes to the Thompson Center, December 2023. (Courtesy of Google)New rendering of the planned changes to the Thompson Center, December 2023. (Courtesy of Google)

Google has put to rest concerns that its plans for the James R. Thompson Center might include demolition of the building’s soaring atrium.

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Not so, the company said, as it shared new renderings of the Thompson Center’s proposed design.

“For the Thompson Center, we’re working with the building’s original architects at Jahn to help bring the design into the 21st century while maintaining its iconic form,” said Karen Sauder, Google Chicago site lead and global clients and agency solutions president. “The Thompson Center’s signature 17-story, light-filled atrium will remain.”

But the covered colonnade at the building’s base will be significantly altered to “allow for an enhanced ground floor experience, including opportunities for more food and beverage retail and seasonal activations of the plaza,” Sauder said.

The most visible change will be the complete replacement of the building’s facade, primarily to achieve energy efficiencies. The new exterior will be triple-paned glass, which will require less energy to heat and cool. “Additionally, it will modernize the way the building looks, and maximize natural daylight and views,” said Sauder.

Other highlights include the addition of covered terraces along three levels of the southeast perimeter, creating new greenspaces.

Sauder also promised a “new and improved CTA experience” for those using the building’s transit hub, but she didn’t offer specifics.

The Thompson Center's existing atrium. (Michael Izquierdo / WTTW News)The Thompson Center's existing atrium. (Michael Izquierdo / WTTW News)

The 1.2-million-square-foot Thompson Center opened in 1985 at Randolph and LaSalle streets (it was originally named the State of Illinois Center). Its post-modernist design by renowned architect Helmut Jahn has been both cheered and jeered over the years.

“The Thompson Center is obviously one of Helmut’s iconic statements,” Phillip Castillo, executive vice president of JAHN, the firm formerly led by Jahn, told Architectural Record in 2022, when the building’s deal with Google was announced. “It was about transparency in government — whether we want to laugh about that now is another issue.”

The use of non-insulated glass in the original facade made interior temperatures difficult (and expensive) to regulate, and tenants complained about the way the atrium amplified noise. Deferred maintenance costs were upwards of $300 million when the state unloaded the building to Google in a $105 million deal.

But the building and its “starship” shape had their vocal fans as well. Preservation Chicago routinely included the Thompson Center on its annual “most endangered” list in an effort to rally support for alternative uses versus demolition.

Google seems to be splitting the difference with its renovation, which is expected to take a couple of years.

“We look forward to stewarding the Thompson Center into the 21st century,” Sauder said.

Expect construction fencing to circle the building in early 2024, she said.

Rendering of the planned Thompson Center plaza. (Courtesy of Google)Rendering of the planned Thompson Center plaza. (Courtesy of Google)

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 |  [email protected]

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