A Virtual Visit to the Chicago Architecture Center

Their mission is to “inspire people to discover why design matters.” 

The home of the Chicago Architecture Center is both a gallery of supersized scale models and a hub for their tours. We visited the CAC to find out how they pivoted when in-person tours were suspended– and to show you some cool stuff that you can check out now that they’ve reopened.

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Marc Vitali: On East Wacker Drive, the Chicago Architecture Center has a view of landmark buildings.

Inside, there is an ever-evolving scale model of the city.

The center’s mezzanine contains a skyline filled with models of innovative buildings from Chicago and around the world.

The headquarters of the Chicago Architecture Center are currently closed, but the CAC is offering a variety of online programs. (WTTW News)The headquarters of the Chicago Architecture Center are currently closed, but the CAC is offering a variety of online programs. (WTTW News)

In accordance with the shutdown, the space is currently not welcoming visitors for the 85 tours they offer. 

But you can still explore Chicago architecture – and get a tour – from your home.

Lynn Osmond, Chicago Architecture Center CEO: Once we closed on March 13, within 10 days we had a whole new program, CAC at Home, and it includes everything from live programs to virtual tours.

We actually tour the city. So we have a docent with a selfie stick that goes out and talks about commercial buildings or art deco buildings and then we also have programs that are related to some of the issues we’re dealing with, like what does the office of the future look like? Are people going to be afraid of cities as they come back? So some more thought-provoking things.

Vitali: And they have resources for kids in English and Spanish.

And new tours in and around Chicago neighborhoods.

Osmond: We all know that with the lakefront being closed all of a sudden our neighborhoods are really being pressed to have that gathering spot, and not all neighborhoods are equal in terms of having that green space. 

We’re so fortunate because we have over 400 volunteers, our docents that we train, and they’ve really risen to the challenge in terms of, how do I interact with an audience?

Vitali: WTTW viewers will recognize one longtime CAC docent, Geoffrey Baer.

Osmond: He still is a docent. He’s an architecture river cruise docent and still teaches a class to our docents about how to give a presentation.

Vitali: When in-person tours do commence, visitors can once again visit the scale model of the city with 4,000 buildings.

The accompanying film tells the dramatic story of the building of Chicago and its Native American origins.

Projections chart the fiery path of the inferno that nearly consumed the city in October 1871 – and the rebuilding that followed.

The center also founded a network of architectural organizations around the world. 

Recently their leadership spoke via Zoom to consider the impact of COVID-19.

Osmond: We talked about, you know, what’s going to happen with cities? What’s going to happen with densities? And we all still believe in cities but we know that just like after 9/11, our environments changed dramatically but we learned to live with it. We had security in buildings, but we also changed our own behavior. That will be a result of what’s happened with COVID, but people will still believe in cities, and we still believe in them. 

This story was originally published May 6, 2020. 

Follow Marc Vitali on Twitter: @MarcVitaliArts

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