Open House Chicago: The City Behind Closed Doors

Modern style and lesser-known sites on display during Chicago Architecture Foundation's signature event.

When you're a city like Chicago—boasting a city planning CV with the likes of Daniel Burnham, Stanley Tigerman, and Jeanne Gang—a simple stroll through downtown can provide a survey course on architectural history. This wealth of visual artistry makes Open House Chicago, a centerpiece of the Chicago Architecture Foundation's public programming happening this weekend, a design lover's must-do. During Saturday, October 18, and Sunday, October 19, 2014, the organization will offer free, behind-the-scenes access to 150 sites across the city, including the vault at the Board of Trade, skyline landmarks like the Kemper Building and all manner of ornate interiors. While the city's architectural heritage rightfully gets top billing, numerous new interiors, building projects and off-the-beaten-path sites participating in the program also demand exploring.

Poetry Foundation

Completed in 2011, the new headquarters for the Poetry Foundation, designed by Chicago's John Ronan Architects, features grids of zinc, glass, and wood that encase the organization's new home and frame the courtyard garden, delineating a peaceful urban retreat and creating a bridge between the interior and exterior.


Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership

The tesselating glass facade designed by local firm Krueck & Sexton still stuns; 726 pieces of glass, cut in a complex set of 556 unique shapes, produces a crystalline exterior, a multifacted metaphor for the institution within.

Wright Auction House

Remember that warehouse scene in Indian Jones? Replace the wooden crates with pristine, original examples of the best work by icons like Nakashima, the Eames and Mobler, and you have the storage space at Wright Auction House, a 40,000-square-foot mecca for mid-century furniture and design.

Ignite Glass Studios

While the heat escaping from the 80-pound furnace at this state-of-the-art glassblowing studio certainly recalls an industrial past, the West Loop building presents a sleek look and contemporary style, both results of an award-winning, sustainable redesign by Epstein and Metter Studio.

Threadless Warehouse & Headquarters

As befitting the design-focused company, which elevated T-shirt art by building an online community that seemed to print cotton tees and cash in equal measure, Threadless calls this colorful warehouse home, which features art from locals such as Don’t Fret.

Black Cinema House

A former Anheuser-Busch distribution site reclaimed by Theaster Gates' pioneering Rebuild Foundation, the Black Cinema House has become an indispensible resource for African-American film and a community center dedicated to screenings and broader public education about film, history and culture.


The sizable design, architecture, engineering and planning practive lived up to its green ideals with this 2009 renovation of their downtown office space, a LEED Platinum-certified project featuring recycled aluminum, reclaimed teak and a focus on locally sourced materials.

Clayco + Forum Studio

It's a bit symbolic that an architectural and design partnership in Chicago would commission a new office inside the Jewelers Building, a landmark and the last of the early Adler & Sullivan structures left standing in the city's Loop business district. Exuding optimism and ease, the new, brightly colored space is arranged around a reclaimed timber treehouse.

Iron Street Farm

Located on seven acres in the city's Southside Bridgeport neighborhood, Iron Street Farm, on the street of the same name, has turned an industrial site into a community center and agricultural hotbed producing greens for some of the city's top chefs. Growing Power, a Milwaukee nonprofit founded by a former Procter & Gamble exec, led the reclaimation project.

Sedgewick Studio

This unique space, located underneath the city's elevated Sedgewick train station, was once an electrical substation that's been turned into loft studios for sculptors and other artists. Even though the building once held massive transformers, it took considerable time to deal with water and flooding problems before it was ready for re-use.

Power House High

This structural reboot of a former power plant now has a much different purpose. Another post-industrial, LEED Platinum-certified showpiece, this century-old structure, which once housed rows of massive coal burners that provided all the power for Sears, Roebuck & Company's 55-acre corporate headquarters (as well as the air pressure for the pnuematic mail tubes), now boasts a pair of charter schools.

site design group, ltd.

The award-winning landscape firm behind sites such as Mary Bartelme Park took over the penthouse of the historic Crane Company Building, designed by Holabird & Roche in 1912, and turned it into a playful, open workspace.

Testa Produce

The twirling blades of this wind turbine—the centerpiece of a $24 million LEED Platinum-certified warehouse built by a more than century-old produce and distribution company—symbolize rebirth in the city's Back of the Yards neighborhood, once a collection of stockyards immortalized in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. The innovative facility also boasts an array of solar panels and water management technology, among other green features.

Thalia Hall

Commissioned by the city's Bohemian population in the 1890 -- it was modeled after the grandiose Opera House in Prague -- this multi-story structure in the Pilsen neighborhood has been reborn, reimagined in 2013 by Bruce Finkelman, owner of the popular Empty Bottle music club, as a bar/restaurant/performance space. The original stage and stonework now play host to concerts as well as Dusek's restaurant and the subterranean Punch House bar.


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