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The Chicago Architecture Foundation’s New Riverfront Center Formally Opens This Summer

The 20,000-square-foot Chicago Architecture Center, designed by the firm of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill, will formally open on August 31, with a lot more space—and a much bigger scale model of the city.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation, a longtime cultural attraction and operator of popular architecture cruises, will formally open the doors to its new and expanded Wacker Drive location and rebrand as the Chicago Architecture Center on August 31.

Known for its tours, daytime educational programming, and discussions relating to Chicago’s built environment, the upcoming summer grand opening of the organization’s new 20,000-square-foot home at 111 E. Wacker Drive will mark the introduction of new permanent exhibitions with interactive features, as well as directly connect the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s home base to the Chicago River and riverwalk.

Courtesy of the Chicago Architecture Foundation

The new center will feature over 9,000 square feet of dedicated space for permanent and rotating exhibits, says Chicago Architecture Foundation president and CEO Lynn Osmond. “We want to give people a chance to explore why Chicago is a city of architecture and to tell the story of the skyscraper,” Osmond says. “There’s a lot of innovation happening in Chicago and we’re still designing the tallest buildings in the world.”

One familiar exhibition being moved over from the organization’s former home at Michigan Avenue to its new Wacker Drive location is the popular Chicago Model, a scale model of the city’s downtown core. At the new CAC, the model will have its own dedicated space, providing room to more than double its size from 1,300 buildings to roughly 3,000, but also some interactive features for visitors to learn more about specific buildings, architects, design eras, and even walking tour paths. The center will also include a permanent exhibition illustrating the evolution of skyscraper design and its roots in Chicago.

chicago architecture foundation center
Courtesy of the Chicago Architecture Foundation

And with being one of the leading institutions dedicated to Chicago architecture, it only makes sense that the organization would team up with a high-profile design shop for its new location. Leading the interior design and planning is the Chicago-based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill, a firm known for designing sleek supertall towers built around the world. Renderings of the Chicago Architecture Center depict minimalist, contemporary interior spaces with some special Chicago-inspired Easter eggs, such as lighting fixtures in the shape of the Chicago municipal device.

There’s a lot more to the move and rebranding, Osmond says, adding that the expansion in scope and relocation required all hands on deck, including the help of docents. “The new location anchors our presence along the riverwalk and near the launch of the river cruise, which means that docents had to reroute tours to include the center in the experience,” Osmond says. “We’re reframing the tours as one total experience.”

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