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The Chicago Architecture Center Opens Tomorrow. Here’s What to See.

Who doesn’t love big models of buildings?

The CAC’s new exterior   Photo: Eric Allix Rogers/Chicago Architecture Center

The Chicago Architecture Center will formally open the doors to its new riverfront location this Labor Day weekend. After spending more than 20 years at the historic Railway Exchange Building on Michigan Avenue, the civic organization, formerly known as the Chicago Architecture Foundation, has expanded its footprint and introduced new permanent exhibitions at its Wacker Drive location. Well known for its popular riverboat cruises, walking tours, and educational programming, the Chicago Architecture Center’s new home will open to the public on Friday, August 31.

Visitors to the new center will find more than 9,000 square feet of dedicated space to exhibits that focus on the history of architecture and skyscraper design. Not to be outdone, the organization tapped the Chicago-based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill, a firm known for its work on some of the tallest towers around the world, to design its new center. Have a few dollars handy though, as the Chicago Architecture Center is now charging an admission fee for non-members: $12 for adults and $8 for students.

There’s a lot to see and explore at the organization’s new riverfront location, but here are a few of our favorite things.

The “top five” towers in the Drake Family Skyscraper Gallery

Skyscraper models Photo: Tom Harris/Chicago Architecture Center

The allure of reaching new heights has been a common theme in architecture since the dawn of the civilization. The CAC’s skyscraper gallery helps to illustrates this race to the top in the era of the modern skyscraper with its scale models of some of the world’s tallest structures. Located near the front windows, the installation allows visitors and passersby on Wacker Drive to peek in and learn about how iconic skyscrapers such as the Home Insurance Building, Chrysler Building, Willis Tower, Petronas Towers, and the under-construction Jeddah Tower stack up.

The models are all equal in scale (1:91 according to the Chicago Architecture Center), meaning that observers are, in effect, seeing how these buildings would stand up to one another and how changes in technology and design has allowed builders to climb to dramatic heights over the decades. The old Home Insurance Building, constructed in the 1880s and considered to be the first modern skyscraper, looks minuscule next to the model of the Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill-designed Jeddah Tower, which stands at a height of 36 feet, or two-stories tall.

Interactive features integrated into the expanded Chicago Model

The updated Chicago Model. photo: Tom Harris/Chicago Architecture Center

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 devastated the city and reduced much of the greater downtown to ashes. In the following decades, planners and architects would not only rebuild the city center, but buildings would come back taller and grander in scope than ever. Visitors to the new center can not only learn about the impacts of the fire but also explore and study specific details on architectural periods, the downtown grid, and walking tours.

The beloved Chicago Model, a 1:600 scale model of downtown, is a favorite for educators and architecture buffs. Here, it’s been expanded in size to display more than 4,000 buildings — a considerable increase from the 1,300 buildings it contained at its former location in the Railway Exchange Building atrium. But that’s not all: the new installation includes a video highlighting the history of Chicago architecture, a look at up-and-coming developments that are slated to reshape the city’s iconic skyline, and a section devoted to culturally significant Chicago neighborhoods such as Bronzeville, Pullman, Humboldt Park, and others.

An updated gift shop

Gifts galore for your inner architecture nerd Photo: tom Harris/Chicago Architecture Center

What museum experience is complete without a stop at the gift shop? Visitors will find more than books and stationary at the CAC’s updated boutique for all-things architecture and beyond. And with a location just steps away from the Michigan Avenue launch point of the center’s riverboat cruises, it’s now more convenient to purchase tickets for tours and special events.

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