The Chicago Architecture Center’s annual program, Open House Chicago, offers a rare opportunity to visit some of the city’s most impressive architectural wonders, many of which are not normally open to the public. The beloved program returns this month, with in-person site visits Oct. 16-17.
Building off the success of the Open House Chicago app, which launched last year during the pandemic, this year’s program will offer 30 self-guided tours of city neighborhoods. The app’s highlights include “The Great Chicago Fire” tour, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the historic blaze with a narrated, self-guided tour that takes listeners along a route of pre- and post-fire buildings. There’s also an option to “Explore Like a Local,” where users can visit neighborhood-favorites curated by local community partners.
“We really designed the program to encourage Chicagoans to go into the neighborhoods,” said Hallie Rosen, director of program operations and head of Open House Chicago. “We always describe ourselves as a city of neighborhoods and this is a great opportunity to get out there and really explore some of our neighborhoods.”
WBEZ’s Reset sat down with Rosen to discuss what we can look forward to during Open House Chicago this month and how it’s different from years past. Here are some of the edited highlights from their conversation.
On what new sites people can visit Oct. 16-17
Rosen: Some of the new sites people will be able to see are the Sable Hotel, which is the new hotel on Navy Pier. Another downtown site is the Bank of America Tower on Wacker Drive, and for people who aren’t familiar, this is a brand new skyscraper. It’s 55 stories tall. People will be able to go to restricted places you wouldn’t normally get to go to, including the third-floor conference room with amazing views.
Another new site this year is the Herman Miller showroom in Fulton Market. It’s located in a landmark building from 1922, which used to have a poultry business in it. And then The Penthouse Hyde Park, which is a rap theater that’s been renovated and it’s now a venue for events and parties. I could go on and on.
On COVID-19 precautions for in-person site visits
Rosen: [COVID-19] is top of mind all the time for us. Right now, we’re basically following the Illinois Health Department guidelines and this requires everyone to wear masks indoors. So, we’re asking people when they go, if they’re planning to go inside any site, to make sure they have a mask. But we also have said that individual sites may have additional requirements, so we have provided all the sites that are participating with signage that they can use to let visitors know what their additional requirements might be. It could be showing a vaccination card or a negative COVID test.
On how she suggests visitors plan their routes
Rosen: I think the way to plan your route is to think about what is your interest: Is it historic residences? Maybe there’s several self-guided tours you can do right away and you don’t have to wait until Oct. 16 or 17. And then, of course, I like to suggest people pick a neighborhood they usually don’t go to. They can view the site in the OHC app or on our website, and look at the different sites in that neighborhood. I personally say let the neighborhoods do the leading on how you plan your itinerary. But if it’s the new sites that haven’t been open to the public before and you want to release the architecture geek inside of you, then those are the sites you’re going to really want to look at first.
On going beyond highlighting the city’s architecture
Rosen: We have also put together a series of online programs that are available throughout the month of October on the app or on our Open House Chicago website. We worked with community partners to put some of these programs together. One program in particular that I’m thinking about is not until the end of October, so there’s lots for you to do before then. It’s Oct. 28 and it’s called “Songs About Buildings and Moods.” We’re looking at the First Church of Deliverance in Bronzeville and the intersectionality of architecture and music. You know, you think about churches all the time, they’re all over our city. But it gives you a unique way to think about a building and highlights a building in a neighborhood that people might not have visited or known anything about.
On what she’s looking forward to most this year
Rosen: I want to see the new buildings, so of course, The Penthouse Hyde Park. And as long as I’m in Hyde Park, I’m going to do a fun trail we put together about Obama favorites. It’s not necessarily the architectural wonder of the app, but you see his house, their favorite restaurants, and it just really gives you context for what the Obamas meant in Hyde Park.
Madison Muller is a part-time digital producer for WBEZ. Follow her @g0ingmad.
Olivia Canny is an intern for WBEZ’s Reset.