Chicago architecture opens up

By Brian Dukerschein

Chicagoans will soon be able to get a firsthand look inside some of the city’s famous and obscure architectural treasures.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation will be hosting its first “openhousechicago,” a celebration of Chicago neighborhoods, on Oct. 15–16. Modeled after similar events in London and other world capitals, OHC will give the public free access to 131 sites centered around five distinct neighborhoods: Downtown Chicago, Bronzeville, Garfield Park, Little Village and Rogers Park.

Highlights include the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Emil Bach House, 7415 N. Sheridan Road; access to the two-acre rooftop garden at Lake Point Tower, 505 N. Lakeshore Drive; and a backstage tour of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph St.

According to Justin Lyons, director of communications for CAF, visitors will be admitted to the participating sites on a first-come, first-serve basis. Visitors can proceed at their own pace or take part in the guided tours and lectures being offered at several locations. In order to help participants visit as many sites as possible, CAF will offer a free shuttle service in each of the five neighborhoods.

Lyons said sites were selected to coincide with a theme of “community.” Teams of CAF docents partnered with community leaders in the five neighborhoods to identify many buildings that operate under most Chicago residents’ radar.

“We wanted to go out into some of the diverse communities and open them up,” Lyons said. “From past experiences with [organizers] in New York and London, we learned 70 percent of the people who attend [these events] live in and around the city. We’re expecting many people to be suburbanites and Chicagoans who probably just haven’t gone into these different areas.”

Bastiaan Bouma, OHC’s managing director, said many factors played a role in choosing which sites to showcase. Organizers wanted to achieve a balance between new and historic buildings and highlight those featuring elements of sustainability. Bouma said it was also important for the buildings to have something behind the scenes that can be illuminated for the public.

“Some sites are high on design, and others are more vernacular,” Bouma said. “We were looking for buildings that were important from either an architecture or design standpoint, or that they were significant contributors to communities from a cultural, economic or social perspective.”

According to Bouma, several of the locations in Rogers Park are not significant for their architecture, but for the “streetscape” they create. He cited the hundreds of two-story buildings along Devon Avenue that for decades have served as a means of sustaining culture, and stood as a local economy for successive waves of immigrants. Bouma said he feels the buildings are noteworthy for their sturdiness and adaptability as businesses come and go.

The adaptiveness of modern design to historic architecture can be seen at Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan Ave. The theatre company is housed inside the Chicago Avenue Pumping Station, which was built in 1869 and was one of two public buildings to survive the 1871 Chicago Fire.

According to Lookingglass’ marketing director Erik Schroeder, the theater will be offering tours of its backstage areas, an opportunity usually reserved for ticket subscribers. John Morris, the architect who designed the theater, will also be present to answer questions.

According to Bouma, the idea of opening significant architectural buildings to the public originated in London 20 years ago, and today approximately 15 global cities hold such events. He said while city-wide open houses in London and New York each drew 250,000 people this year, OHC organizers are planning for 75,000 attendees.

Lyons said even though this event is new to Chicago, building owners were eager

to participate despite the fact organizers were unable to tell them what to expect.

“There’s been a tiny bit of a leap of faith by many of the buildings, but they really embraced the project from day one,” Lyons said. “By working with New York and London and getting all their feedback and support, it’s been a good process.”

Bouma said OHC could have easily recruited 250 buildings, but organizers thought it wiser to limit the number of sites for the inaugural year.

Bouma offered reassurance to those who might already be intimidated at the prospect of having more than 100 places to visit.

“[At] many of these sites, you’ll get to see what you need to see in a few minutes,” he said. “We sometimes refer to it as the architectural equivalent of speed dating.”

Openhousechicago will take place on Oct. 15 –16, with open hours determined by each location. For more information on the buildings participating in openhousechicago and to plan your itinerary, visit