August 24, 2021

We are delighted to share Epstein is one of seven finalists participating in the Thompson Center Design Competition sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Center and the Chicago Architectural Club!

The competition sought proposals for a re-imagined Thompson Center, as the State of Illinois put the building up for sale this past May. The building was originally designed by Helmut Jahn and built in 1984; the competition, as such, aims to give the center new life through restorative architecture while preserving its architecture and public character.

Below is Team Epstein's approach for their proposed design:

Can the Thompson Center make a difference in Chicago’s future?

The Thompson Center has a unique characteristic – it lies in one of the busiest transportation nodes in Chicago. We propose to exploit this built-in infrastructure to reach out to our communities, especially those who are underserved, via CTA rail lines as distribution networks providing urban-farmed products to food deserts. Our intent is to promote community involvement and socially just action.

Design Approach

After studying the Thompson Center’s past, its design victories, shortcomings, detailing, and its incredible public spaces, we decided it must be preserved. The Thompson Center was envisioned by Helmut Jahn to be a public forum – a space filled with the community and its stories. The current security and legal restrictions prevent this from happening and the entrance is shuttered on weekends.

"We wanted the Thompson Center to be seen as an asset and not a liability," said our Patrick Carata, AIA, who served as the design lead for this submittal. "Few buildings lie at the epicenter of our Chicago transportation network, and that should be exploited. We felt we needed to reach beyond the Thompson Center site.

"The glowing farming pods visible in our renderings are objects offering a practical solution, but they could be anything. One of their primary functions is to serve as a symbol of hope and renewed commitment to our city. As Chicagoans, we need to reestablish our sense of pride. Reevaluate our existing assets, cut political bureaucracies, improve efficiency and get back to real-world solutions that will contribute to solving Chicago’s most pressing social issues."

We propose a new entry sunken into the plaza creating a public auditorium and replacing the current subterranean court. This allows the public access to the building at all times irrespective of what private entity is occupying the building. We propose expanding the plaza to connect to City Hall and adding new public attractions to generate additional income, including vertical gardens, auditoriums, art galleries, and community spaces. This provides a unique way to rediscover the building’s public spaces and fall in love all over again with the building’s architecture and detailing.

Energy-use improvements are made through passive ventilation, high-performance glazing, and a green roof mitigating the heat island effect.

An urban farm will occupy the top floor and act as the workhorse of the building. Serving as a learning environment for CPS and other community organizations, this farm will also provide food to underserved communities and food deserts by utilizing the existing CTA network of rails to deliver the urban-farmed products in dual-purpose transportation/market pods.

The winning design proposal will be announced at an opening reception for the Tuesday, September 14 opening of CAC’s pop-up exhibit featuring the winning and finalists’ designs.

Good luck, Team Epstein!


Team Members

Edward Curley
Vice President
Patrick Carata
Associate Vice President
Simon Cygiekski
Project Architect
Sarah Bush
Senior Design Professional