MAS Context Fall Talks 2017
Starship Chicago


Between November 6 and November 12, 2017, MAS Context exclusively hosted the international digital premiere of Starship Chicago, a documentary by Nathan Eddy, which had its U.S. premiere during our MAS Context : Analog event in October.


The film focuses on Helmut Jahn’s James R. Thompson Center, originally the State of Illinois Center, an iconic, provocative, and controversial landmark architectural statement that continues to provoke, enrage, and inspire despite the state of Illinois’ shameful neglect.

While the film chronicles the story of Chicago’s most provocative contribution to modern architecture it more importantly calls into question the very essence of the future of the democratic city—Who determines the future of the past?




About Starship Chicago

Architect Helmut Jahn’s kaleidoscopic, controversial State of Illinois Center, which shocked the world when it opened in 1985, may not be long for this world.

Today the building is a run down rusty shadow of its former self, occupying a lucrative downtown block and deemed expendable by the cash-strapped state legislature.

Despite initial construction flaws and hefty refurbishment costs, this singular architectural vision of an open, accessible, and inspiring civic building—defined by its iconic, soaring atrium—remains intact.

Four years after the stinging loss of brutalist icon Prentice Women’s Hospital, Chicago preservationists, along with the building’s original champion, Governor James R. Thompson, are gearing up for a major battle to save the city’s most provocative architectural statement.



Director & Producer: Nathan Eddy
Director of Photography: Brian Cagle
Editor & Design: Nate DeYoung
Aerial Photography: Michael Hoday
Additional Photography: Joe Gleason
Sound Mixer: Eric Brown
Music: Zain Effendi



World Premiere: Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam (October 7)
US Premiere: MAS Context : Analog in Chicago (October 21)
New Urbanism Film Festival in Los Angeles (October 22)
Architecture and Design Film Festival in New York City (November 2-4)




Starship Chicago is the second short film directed by Nathan Eddy. In 2013, he released The Absent Column that chronicled the preservation battle around Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago, a building that was ultimately demolished. The film made its world premiere at the Durban Film Festival in South Africa and was later included in the Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam and the Architecture & Design Film Festival in New York. In our Legacy issue, an essay by Paola Aguirre and Michelle Ha Tucker with photographs by David Schalliol, discussed the demolition of Prentice Women’s Hospital.



More recently, Nathan Eddy, organized a protest and a petition against the redesign proposed by Snøhetta of Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s AT&T Building. Using the hashtag #SaveATT, Nathan Eddy, who is working on a film about Philip Johnson, and other organizations and notable architects such as Docomomo US and Robert Stern, are asking the building’s owners to reconsider the design alterations to this iconic postmodern tower in New York City. Media outlets such as Metropolis magazine, Architect’s Newspaper, and Archinect among others have covered these efforts.

We look forward to your comments on these preservations efforts. Please, share these initiatives and others in order to have thoughtful, critical, and proactive conversations about preservation and our built environment.



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6 Responses to “MAS Context Fall Talks 2017
Starship Chicago”

  1. robert schmidt says:

    It reminds me of a critique some clever pundit made of an SOM office building in Chicago that was clad in black stone but featured travertine-clad columns at the base. His comment: It looked like a man in a tuxedo wearing white socks!

    In this Snøhetta design, the suit/socks colour issue is not so profound, but the “trousers” are definitely too short!

  2. Lexi says:

    Does anyone else find it a little funny that immediately following the comment about the 1970s redo of the public library that the next cut is to Helmut? You know his proposal came in 2nd place for that project xD

  3. In 1991, I had the pleasure and unique experience of creating a site-specific performance event in this incredible building as part of an event produced by Dancing in the Streets and Columbia College. The work featured nearly 80 performers and was seen by several thousand people who came to the Center over two days in September 12-13, 1991. The event was called “Dancing in the State” and also featured work by the following artists: Timothy Buckley, Elizabeth Streb, Christopher Janney and Shirley Mordine. This one of a kind event is clearly part of the history of this building!

    My performance did reference the notion of government as a means of “controlling” people, hence the title “The Governed Body” and there’s was even some concern from the office of Republican Governor Jim Edgar who believed that the work (which utilized made up protest chants) was mocking government, at the seat of government! The producers of the event and I were required to have a conference call just prior to the premiere to quell any concerns about our intentions! We were successful. The work was commenting on government, much like a political cartoon in a newspaper. It was both a serious commentary (through abstraction) and tongue and cheek.

    The youtube link is a very short excerpt of the performance.

    I am frankly saddened to learn that the building, which was always unclassifiable, is being threatened with extinction! If the government is leaving, then surely in this age we live in, meaningful repurposing is possible given the unique nature of the interior and exterior space. This rich history of Chicago architecture would be diminished with it’s demise!

  4. Peggy Lami says:

    In the early 90s as a docent with Chicago Architecture Foundation, kid’s tours of the Loop were a revelation to my burgeoning understanding of architecture as more than shelter from the weather. As I brought a group of 3rd graders from inside Monument with Standing Beast through the revolving doors squeals of joy rang out and jaws dropped as eyes traveled up and up through the space and out the dome. To give them a look from above, we entered one glass elevator and began our journey up. At the 2nd level a state employee toting her lunch joined us. As we rose, some were afraid while some were delirious, pressing noses to the glass. It was not a quiet ride. Stepping off at her floor, the worker chastised, “This is not Great America.” As the doors closed, my comment was “Yes, it is!” Then we had a chat about tax dollars and who owned the building and was it really red, white, and blue. If those kids could chime in today, maybe some would say that the Thompson Center opened their eyes and their hearts to the magic a space can hold while it goes about everyday business in great America.

  5. Daniel Mason says:

    Great work on an iconic building. Repurpose it if you must, build a tower next to it, but keep it

  6. Ann B Nash says:

    This is an amazing building owned by a bankrupt and ignorant state. The decline of this magnificent building could be a metaphor for the decline of Illinois in general. If there is going to be a campaign to save the Thompson Center, count me in.

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