The Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) cut the ribbon today on their new home along the Chicago River, as well as a new public face. The Chicago Architecture Center (CAC), which will be open to visitors beginning this Friday, August 31, will serve as the base for the organization’s outreach, and as its new name, as the CAF rebrands to the CAC.
The 20,000-square-foot Chicago Architecture Center fills a dramatic space within One Illinois Center, designed by the Office of Mies van der Rohe and located at 111 East Wacker Drive. Center visitors are greeted by stunning views of some of the city’s most iconic buildings, including Tribune Tower and the Wrigley Building. The space also provides convenient access to the dock for Chicago’s First Lady Cruises, the organization’s renowned river cruise line.
“The center builds on 50 years of the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s legacy of translating architecture and design for the public,” said CAC president and CEO Lynn Osmond. “We have found the perfect location for our new home. It’s at the intersection of where the city was founded, Fort Dearborn.”
Joining Osmond for the ribbon cutting ceremony were Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and the space’s architect, Gordon Gill of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture.
“We can’t wait for people to visit the CAC and experience how Chicago architects have influenced the world through their innovation and vision,” said Osmond. “We’ve engineered a stimulating and immersive space where visitors can have fun discovering Chicago’s groundbreaking architecture—and appreciate its profound impact on the world.”
The CAC features custom-designed spaces for tour orientation, design education, public programs, an award-winning store and innovative exhibits developed in partnership with museum planning and design firm Gallagher & Associates. The Skyscraper Gallery on the second floor is filled with supersized scale models of famous skyscrapers from Chicago and around the world including a nearly 40-foot tall model of Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah Tower, designed by AS+GG, which will be the world’s tallest building when completed.
“It’s visually beautiful from the inside looking out, but also from the outside looking in,” Gill said of the new center. “There was a long search for the perfect location and I remember when I walked into this space, it just took my breath away. The views are spectacular. You look out and see the heart and history of Chicago. The layout is so unique. It will offer a whole variety of experiences.”
The Chicago Gallery, located on the first floor, tells the story of how Chicago became the epicenter of modern architecture, from the world’s first skyscraper to icons like the Willis Tower. The centerpiece of the gallery is the popular Chicago Model Experience, a scale model of greater downtown Chicago and its buildings.
The model—which displayed approximately 1,000 buildings and attracted 100,000 people a year in its old location in the Railway Exchange Building—has been expanded for the move as there are now more than 4,200 buildings in the exhibit. A film and interactive light show illuminates the model to show Chicago’s early growth, rebirth after the Great Chicago Fire, first-ever skyscrapers, and today’s modernist masterpieces of steel and glass.
“[The CAC] is a center of a conversation that in my view is more imperative than ever before,” Mayor Emanuel said. “The world has a lot of forces tearing us apart. If architecture, design and the conversation of that can bring people together, it can create the threads of a common understanding and we will be all that much stronger, richer and better prepared for the future.”
The opening of the Chicago Architecture Center represents a new beginning. Since its founding in 1966 as the CAF, the organization reached nearly 690,000 people last year through its 85 docent-led tours, as well as exhibitions, lectures, education programs and online tools, and the annual Open House Chicago, a two-day, city-wide architecture festival. When the CAC opens on August 31, CAF will adopt the name Chicago Architecture Center for all its offerings and activities.
“For the architects and planners of this city, we now have a home for our work to be displayed to the world,” said Gill. “For the youth, … this will be a resource for you forever, for you to learn, for you to participate and for you to think, go back and make great things happen.”