This weekend, the Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) is presenting its 12th Open House Chicago event, one of the largest architecture festivals in the world. On October 15-16, the public is invited to discover a roster of over 150 sites in 20 community areas throughout Chicago and some neighboring suburbs. 

In addition, Open House Chicago’s signature weekend will be augmented by opportunities for engagement throughout the month of October via the new CAC app. The event remains free and open to the public.

Adam Rubin, director of interpretation for CAC, says Open House Chicago has emerged from the pandemic reenergized and with a new focus. In 2020, in response to the pandemic, there were no site visits, and CAC introduced an app to allow participants to take self-guided tours. In 2021, the CAC debuted a hybrid model with in-person site visits as well as experiences guided by the app.  

As the world continues to emerge from the pandemic, Rubin says CAC is continuing the hybrid in-person and app approach and finds their new strategy allows a different emphasis. From over 250 sites in 2019, Open House Chicago is now focused on roughly 150 sites and 20 neighborhoods.

“The pandemic made us all look more locally,” Rubin said. “We ended up with an Open House program that’s honestly better than what we had before.”

“The goal is for people to feel empowered to get to know not only their own neighborhood but perhaps some other neighborhood on a greater level. It’s not just to pop in to one site and then drive to another community in your car.”

To that end, the CAC app has an application called “Explore Like a Local” that allows visitors to delve deeper into the neighborhoods where official sites are located by suggesting nearby businesses or places to visit that are not official CAC sites, but that will enhance a visitor’s understanding of the neighborhood.

While Rubin acknowledges some participants will always be driven to see as many sites as possible or get into as many buildings as possible while access is available, he says the CAC is seeing a move away from what he calls competitive tourism.

“There’s a lot you can get out of it if you give it a little space to breathe,” Rubin said.

In Oak Park, two new sites will be joining the lineup. The Oak Park Conservatory, 615 Garfield St., will be included in the event for the first time. Rubin says people will enjoy the 1920s-era conservatory as well as the community focus of the building that was first built as a repository for residents who brought back specimens from their travels. In the 1970s, the community banded together to save the building, which had fallen into disrepair.

Also new this year is the Oak Park Public Library, 834 Lake St. The 104,000-square-foot building was designed by the firm of Nagle Hartray Architecture in collaboration with interior design firm Eva Maddox Branded Environments. It was awarded the Chicago Building Congress Merit Award for Best New Construction (Suburbs) in 2004.

New this year also is the Austin Branch Library, 5615 Race Ave. in Chicago, a historic building which contrasts nicely with the Oak Park Public Library’s contemporary style. The neoclassical building was designed by architect Alfred S. Alschuler and was dedicated in 1929. A recent renovation revealed a previously covered skylight that was part of the original design.

Another new site in Austin is Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School, 5088 W. Jackson Blvd. Designed by Chicago-based architect John Ronan, the building is faced in fiber-reinforced cement panels. 

Rubin calls the exterior a “dynamic design.” He also points out the interesting use of glass block, a humble material, to create an intricately patterned wall in the school’s Chapel of St. Ignatius Loyola. 

“I think people will really like this,” Rubin said. “It’s a little bit of the old vernacular style mixed in with the new.”

Rubin says an interesting side tour could be made just of ecclesiastical sites on the Near West Side and near west suburbs. The Fraternité Notre Dame, 502 N. Central Ave. in Austin, was once home to Chicago’s largest Methodist congregation and is now a shrine to Our Lady of Fréchou. 

In Oak Park, First United Methodist Church, 324 N. Oak Park Ave.; Pilgrim Congregational Church, 460 Lake St.; Grace Episcopal Church, 924 Lake St.; and West Suburban Temple Har Zion, 1040 N. Harlem Ave., are all sites on this year’s Open House Chicago.

Rubin says that for many people who might be timid about entering an unfamiliar house of worship, the Open House Chicago weekend offers a time to feel comfortable and welcome. 

“There’s so much beautiful, historic architecture in religious spaces,” Rubin said.

Participants can use the new CAC app to enjoy dozens of exclusive experiences during October, including thematic, self-guided tours. Rubin highlights Murales in Pilsen, which he says focuses on Mexican murals in the neighborhood. 

“We were able to interview a number of artists, and there will be audio on the app that provides context to the art,” Rubin said.

Another tour he highlights is new this year. “Modern Living in Chatham” explores a handful of mid-century modern homes built for and lived in by important Black community members in the area. Rubin says the architecture and the history captures a moment in time.

In addition, as part of Open House Chicago, the CAC will host a series of free virtual programs throughout October. Audience members can enjoy virtual discussions with design experts, historians, and community leaders about Chicago’s architectural legacy from the comfort of home.

Before you go

A complete list of sites, events and programming as well as access to the Chicago Architecture Center app can be found at openhousechicago.org.

Visit architecture.org/join-give/join/membership to become a CAC member. CAC members receive a Priority Access Pass, which provides the ability to skip the lines at all Open House Chicago sites.

 

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