Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The fatal attraction of the James R. Thompson Center

Posted By on 10.11.11 at 04:50 PM


Rebecca Wolfram's disturbing paintings—the subject of my column last week—are all about insidious institutional evils. Maybe she should count among them the occasionally fatal attraction of the building where those paintings are now on display.

The James R. Thompson Center, which houses the Illinois State Museum Chicago Gallery, was shut down during a reception for an exhibit that includes Wolfram's art last Friday, after a woman plunged to her death from the 15th floor of the building's spectacular atrium.

According to Illinois State Police, it was the fifth suicide since the building opened in 1985.

At 16 stories the Thompson Center is dwarfed by the city's real skyscrapers, but architect Helmut Jahn managed to create an interior that gives the impression of startling, vertiginous height. The 54-year-old jumper, who was not a state employee, apparently climbed on a chair in order to get over a protective barrier between the open offices that rise in a dizzying, multistory semicircle around the atrium and the inviting void, with its marble-floor target so far below. A state police spokesperson said the last previous suicide there was in 2001.

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