Google gives first look at its plans for Chicago’s James R. Thompson Center

Love It or Loathe It

Google gives first look at its plans for Chicago’s James R. Thompson Center

Google says that the company is working with Jahn “to help bring the design into the 21st century while maintaining its iconic form.” (Courtesy Google)

Alas, Google has unveiled images of its plans for Chicago’s beloved Thompson Center—a Helmut Jahn–designed public building in the Loop purchased for $105 million in 2022. The building had $300 million in deferred maintenance costs, Chicago officials said, and that privatization was the best bet for its preservation.

Prime/ Capri Investment Group leased the newly commercialized space to Google, who’s had offices in Chicago since 2000, in July 2022. Google’s new lease at Thompson Center marks its largest real estate investment in Chicago to date; a foray that’s been met with mixed reviews by preservationist groups Docomomo, Preservation Futures, and others.

After the sale was made public, architects grew nervous about what the purchase meant for the 1985 postmodern classic. Would the tech leviathan maintain its red and blue interior cladding? Its funky PoMo street lights? Its covered colonnade? Its Piazza del Campidoglio–inspired floor patterns? More presciently, would its signature 17-story atrium remain open to the public?

Rendering of Thompson Center Plaza with view into iconic atrium (Courtesy Google)

Google has since put to bed concerns that Thompson Center’s cavernous atrium would be demolished. They also reassured the public that the space will indeed remain publicly accessible; but its iconic 1980s ephemera will have to go. The stripping, Google says, is essential for the beloved edifice to meet today’s energy needs and provide Googlers with optimal work environs. Google says that the revamped Center will be all-electric and strive for LEED Platinum; its offices and data centers will run on clean energy, every hour of every day.

One of the more significant interventions include covered terraces along three levels of the southeast perimeter that will offer Google employees green space, natural light, and biophilic design elements. These gestures, Google says, pay homage to the original design’s ambitions to communicate transparency and openness.

In making the case for the retrofit’s architectural merits, Google pointed to its long history of reimagining old buildings into modern offices. In a press statement, Google touted its spaces at Pier 57 in New York City and the Arnulfpost in Munich, Germany as living proof that the company can respectfully refurbish iconic structures.

Scaffolding and fencing around the site is expected to go up after the New Year. Construction is anticipated to complete in 2026.