Petition to Turn the Thompson Center Into a Giant Ball Pit

I am not usually one to speak up in spaces typically preserved for those far more qualified than I; however, upon reading a recent Chicago Magazine article about the sanctity of the modern “proletariat food court,” I found myself unable to stay silent any longer. The Thompson Center is not a suitable home for the weary besuited to shovel stale fries down their gullets between client meetings. It is not a suitable home for an innovative hotel-office concept, an indoor water park, a greenhouse, or an ice-skating rink. It is certainly not a suitable home for the postmodern fancies dreamed up by some MENSA badge-toting architecture student who spends most of his paycheck on Uber Black rides to avoid taking the Red Line after 8pm. Instead I propose a more fitting use for this 1980s eyesore: a 17-story communal ball pit.

Before anyone snaps those pearls they’re clutching, hear me out: a ball pit actually preserves, rather than erases, the rich history of this architectural peptic ulcer. The Center was designed to be derivative of an open, highly collaborative government confluence, not unlike the Roman malls of old. What better exhibits the concept of togetherness than a million-gallon communal bowl of soup consisting of plastic balls, human sweat, skin particles, and — let’s be honest — probably a little bit of pee?

The Thompson Center has long been revered as a beacon of postmodern architecture and true Chicago grit. Even the sidewalk surrounding the building bears remnants of the unrivaled blue-collar productivity and determination that define this city: discarded cigarette butts from workers weary from hitting the “print” button on the machine that makes learner’s permits; an abandoned mask crumpled up and coated in an unknown substance, reminiscent of the ever-dynamic nature of the city that always keeps you guessing; the front bumper of someone’s 2008 Chevy Impala, somehow perfectly intact; and a promotional sticker for someone’s underground rap album plastered against the “Snoopy in a blender” sculpture. The various elements of detritus that surround this begrudgingly-populated landmark should evoke a similar sense of quiet chaos that lays liminally and dormantly inside. There is truly nothing that represents the thin line between trashy and artistic like the physical appearance of and around the Thompson Center. All I propose is that the building’s contents should match.

For those who may be concerned about the effects of a pandemic on a mass of bodies all convening and writhing in a pool of polyethylene and piss for an indeterminate period of time each day, you will find solace in knowing that hand-sanitizing stations will be placed at various locations near the entrances and exits of the pit. That should help, right? Additionally, ball pit patrons must be vaccinated to enter the pit; however, COVID-19 vaccines are not required. Rather, patrons must show proof of vaccinations for tetanus, measles, hepatitis A and B, and are encouraged to obtain the following prophylactics prior to entry: anti-fungal cream, Vitamin A and D ointment, an Epi-Pen, and Plan B.

Proponents of this petition should declare their support by placing colorful plastic balls at various locations within the Thompson Center. Eventually we’ll get the whole thing filled without anyone noticing. Except maybe the guy from the Chicago Mag op-ed who apparently eats three meals a day at the Atrium Panda Express.

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Amanda Friedlander

Amanda Friedlander

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Chicago native with a passion for prose and an obsession with compassion. I’m radically transparent about my personal experiences in health and wellness.