The Basics

Are you the type to peep inside neighbors’ windows as you walk by, just, well, because? Then you’ll love busybodying during Open House Chicago. Each October, more than a hundred of the city’s most beautiful and intriguing spaces open their doors to the public, entirely for free. Presented by the Chicago Architecture Center, the weekend-long event features sites in nearly every neighborhood.

Due to pandemic restrictions, no buildings were open to the public during Open House Chicago 2020. The event went on anyway: The CAC developed an app which guided users through neighborhoods and themed trails throughout the city, highlighting notable buildings along the way.

Open House Chicago 2021 will be a hybrid event with interior tours, as well as self-guided trails on the OHC2021 app. Stops on the self-guided tours are still mostly exteriors, but the app (available for download in the Google Play and Apple app stores) is packed with historical and architectural insights. We’ve selected a mix of skyscrapers, theaters, and ritzy hotels — all completely new to OHC this year — that, for one precious weekend, you’re absolutely encouraged to snoop through.

Can’t-Miss Sites

Bank of America Tower Chicago is addicted to building skyscrapers — check out one of our latest, the Bank of America Tower, a 56-story modernist structure erected just last year. Nestled on the riverfront, it’s the tallest office building constructed here since Two Prudential Plaza in 1990. 110 N. Wacker Dr.

Quinn Chapel Home to Chicago’s oldest Black congregation, this Bronzeville A.M.E. church has stood in its current location since 1891. For generations, Quinn Chapel has been a center for social and political activism — both W.E.B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King Jr. spoke here. 2401 S. Wabash Ave.

Sable Hotel at Navy Pier What’s that, you say? You couldn’t be paid to go to Navy Pier? Once you check out the breathtaking views of the skyline and the lake at this luxury hotel, which opened in March, you might just start pinching your pennies for a staycation here. 900 E. Grand Ave.

Illinois Holocaust Museum Don’t sleep on free admission to museums participating in OHC, including this one. Check out its current exhibition, Shanghai: Safe Haven During the Holocaust, featuring photographs of European Jews who found refuge from the Nazis in China. 9603 Woods Dr., Skokie

‘Helmut Jahn + Life + Architecture’ and Uptown Theatre
From left: Helmut Jahn + Life + Architecture and Uptown Theatre

Must-Do Self-Guided Trails

Great Chicago Fire Trail October 8 marks 150 years since Mrs. O’Leary’s barn caught fire, the first of 17,450 buildings to burn over the next two days. Sites include the Roger Quinn Fire Academy (on the site of the O’Leary home), St. Ignatius College Prep, fire relief cottages in Old Town, and the Water Tower on Michigan Avenue.

Obama Trail Astrally project yourself into the shoes of the young, future presidential couple on this tour of Kenwood and Hyde Park. You’ll check out (the exterior of) the Obamas’ Georgian manse, the University of Chicago Law School, and the former first couple’s favorite local businesses, including 57th Street Books and Valois Restaurant.

Helmut Jahn Downtown Trail Explore the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s modernist protégé, killed in a bicycle accident just this spring. Stop at the Thompson Center, the Chicago Board of Trade, and the Chicago Architecture Center itself, for the exhibition Helmut Jahn + Life + Architecture.

Uptown Entertainment District Trail Broadway and Lawrence boasts some of Chicago’s most venerable, ornate performance venues. Take the Red Line back to the Jazz Age, and peep the Green Mill, Aragon Ballroom, and Uptown Theatre.