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Chicago Opens Its Doors

September 26, 2011

By David Hill

Chicago Opens Its Doors
Photo © Caroline Stevens

Emil Bach House (1915), designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. slide show

 

Global TrendCities around the world have launched open house events as a way to engage the public in architecture and design. Slovenia’s Chamber of Architects, an advocacy organization, has taken the idea a step further, hosting an open house featuring more than 100 sites throughout the country.

Barcelona
Launched: 2010
Next: October 22–23, 2011

Denver
Launched: 2005
Next: April 14–15, 2012

Dublin
Launched: 2005
Next: October 7–9, 2011

Galway, Ireland
Launched: 2009
Next: October 13–16, 2011

Helsinki
Launched: 2011
Next: September 2012

Jerusalem
Launched: 2007
Next: November 4–5, 2011

London
Launched: 1992
Next: September 2012

Lowell, Massachusetts
Launched: 2002
Next: May 17–19, 2012

Melbourne
Launched: 2008
Next: July 28–29, 2012

Milwaukee
Launched: 2011
Next: Not yet scheduled

New York
Launched: 2002
Next: October 15–16, 2011

Slovenia
Launched: 2010
Next: October 8–9, 2011

Tel Aviv
Launched: 2007
Next: May 2012

Toronto
Launched: 2000
Next: May 26–27, 2012

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For lovers of the history of architecture, there’s no better U.S. city than Chicago, with its stunning collection of landmark buildings by Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and others. For years, the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) has offered guided tours—on foot and by boat—of the city’s architectural gems. But, surprisingly, there’s never been an annual Open House weekend in the Windy City. That’s about to change.

Following in the footsteps of a growing number of cities around the world—including London, Melbourne, Barcelona, Dublin, Toronto, New York, and Denver—Chicago will launch its own Open House weekend October 15 and 16. Sponsored by the CAF, Open House Chicago offers architecture buffs the chance to see, free of charge, more than 100 sites, including many that are normally off-limits to the public. “One of our goals,” says managing director Bastiaan Bouma, “is to reintroduce the city to its own residents.”

Although some buildings and sites are well known—the Newberry Library (Henry Ives Cobb, 1893), Tribune Tower (Howells & Hood, 1925), the Inland Steel building (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, 1958)—others may be unfamiliar even to longtime Chicagoans. For example, the original, 14-story “Sears Tower” (Nimmons & Fellows), in the North Lawndale neighborhood, dates to 1906 and was once part of the catalog store’s sprawling headquarters. The 1925 Park Castle apartment, in West Ridge, designed by Jens E. Jensen, features a Moorish-style basement swimming pool. A private, elevated 2.5-acre park designed by landscape architect Alfred Caldwell, part of the 70-story Lake Point Tower residential building, has never been open to the public. Similarly, Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1915 Prairie-style Emil Bach House, in Rogers Park, is rarely open to visitors.

Some sites, says Bouma, have more cultural than architectural significance. For instance, the family-owned Fish Keg restaurant in Rogers Park is a simple brick-and-formstone storefront with an imposing neon sign, but it’s been serving fried fish, shrimp, and chicken to loyal customers for 60 years. Hungry Open House Chicago participants will be able to sample the restaurant’s homemade potato salad.

“Our model is a little different from some of the other Open House events,” says Bouma. “Even though architecture is a big part of it, we’re not giving it top billing. We want to highlight some of Chicago’s neighborhoods, not just downtown. And we want people to see how buildings contribute to the communities.”

This story appears in the October 2011 issue of Architectural Record.

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