Open House Chicago, a citywide architectural showcase organized by the Chicago Architecture Center, is returning this fall in a modified format that emphasizes neighborhood exploration and self-guided tours, as well as virtual programming.
Now in its 10th year, the annual event will span a 10-day period from Friday, Oct. 16, to Sunday, Oct. 26, and feature architectural highlights from more than 20 neighborhoods in Chicago, as well as the Oak Park and Evanston suburbs. Open House Chicago is part of the international Open House Worldwide network, which launched in London in 1992 and today celebrates architecture in nearly four dozen cities around the globe.
The Chicago Architecture Center began exploring ways to incorporate a virtual component into the experience in May, said Hallie Rosen, the center's director of program operations.
"The priority for us was that we wanted to make sure the public is safe," she explained. "The event traditionally involves a lot of people. We've usually had 2,000 volunteers that would be at every site and welcome people, and everybody would go into the buildings."
Open House introduces new mobile app
This year, for the first time, guests can navigate the event with the help of an Open House Chicago mobile app for Android and Apple devices. The new app, which offers a map of Open House Chicago sites, audio files, photos and text-based content, will be available for download at the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store in October.
"Wherever you're standing, it will pop up where you are and what's near you to look at," Rosen said. "And when we started to choose the sites, they all had to be architecturally significant on the outside ... There's going to be so much more to do, and I think in many ways, the program's going to be very engaging."
To accommodate architecture aficionados unable to attend Open House Chicago in person, the event also includes around two dozen virtual programs and tours, and Chicago Architecture Center members will also have exclusive access to a series of half-hour virtual neighborhood tours hosted by local civic and public figures. A full schedule of Open House Chicago's online programming will be announced at a later date.
Chicago's INVEST South/West initiative
This year, Open House Chicago is shining a spotlight on neighborhoods that are part of Chicago's INVEST South/West initiative, such as North Lawndale, Englewood, Austin and Humboldt Park. As of late September, 15 other focus areas had been confirmed, including Logan Square, Chicago's Loop, Beverly, Wicker Park and Woodlawn.
One notable addition to Open House Chicago's neighborhood line-up this year is the community of Chinatown. In addition to highlighting the Pui Tak Center and Chinese American Museum of Chicago, the event offers an Innovation Trail highlighting architecturally significant buildings in the area.
Grace Chan McKibben, executive director of Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, said the coalition was proud to partner with Open House Chicago to showcase Chinatown's rich history and cultural heritage.
"The Pui Tak Center building used to be home to On Leong Center, a Chinese mutual aid organization that has roots going back to Imperial China, and is now home to a social service agency that is well-known for its excellent English-as-a-Second-Language classes and other wonderful services for immigrants," Chan McKibben said. "The Chinese American Museum was formerly the Quong Yick Company, a wholesaler that sold vegetables and other goods to restaurants in Chicago and the suburbs. Both of these buildings are iconic and full of wonderful stories."
Other confirmed sites at this year’s event are the Héctor Duarte Studio in Pilsen, the Pullman State Historic Site and Hotel Florence in Pullman and The Forum in Bronzeville. A series of trails, or routes through specific neighborhoods, will give visitors a more in-depth look at areas of the city such as Wicker Park's "Beer Baron Row."
"These trails are kind of do-it-yourself activities," Rosen explained. "It might be a self-guided walking tour, it might be a bike tour that you can take. You look at the app, and you will read what it has to say, and then you'll go to the next stop. All this exploration, which we know our audience loves, they can do it all on their own time."
Tom Kerwin, founding principal at Chicago firm bKL Architecture LLC, said he recommended Open House Chicago attendees pay a visit to Bronzeville.
"The culture and history of that community is nothing short of amazing," Kerwin said. "Read the book 'Third Coast' in advance. It documents both the richness and vibrancy of that community as well as depicting mistakes that were made that led to where it stands today. But it is already filled with renewed energy and has a bright future."