This past weekend, the Chicago Architecture Foundation put on an event called Open House Chicago, where 150 buildings throughout the city were open-ish for exploration all for free. The tagline of this event was, “Are you curious?” and my answer was a resounding, all-caps, bolded YES.

For a rather hot second in my life, I wanted to be an architect (alas — my utter lack of math and science skillz killed that dream before high school). Despite the fact that I am decidedly not an architect today, I still have a strong appreciation for quality architecture. I love buildings, especially old buildings with lots and lots of history, so this event sounded like the perfect way to spend my weekend.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature thought this weekend sounded like the perfect time to get all April moody, which put a serious damper on my extravagant exploration plans. I made it to five buildings instead of my intended 18, but each one was completely worth it.

I started my adventure at Google’s Chicago headquarters. I had to wait in line for quite some time to actually get in the offices, but it was worth the wait.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures beyond the office’s lobby, but let me tell you, I was in serious office lust. I don’t subscribe to traditional office customs–another rant for another day–and neither does Google. The floor plan of the office was almost entirely open. There were a few offices, but by and large everyone that works on the floor we saw has the exact same kind of workspace. They have desks, computers, and sort of have walls, but their employees are by no means sequestered in a cubicle all day. The floor had a YouTube lounge, a speakeasy, and a kitchen that typically is stocked with healthy, freshly made food (though obviously that wasn’t the case on Saturday). My office fortunately isn’t nearly as soul-crushing as some, but I was crazy jealous of Google’s set-up nevertheless.

After Google, I walked across the street to Harry Carey’s to see Frank Nitti’s vault. Frank Nitti was Al Capone’s enforcer back in the day, and he operated out of Harry Carey’s long before it became a famous steakhouse.

Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m a total history nerd, so I loved seeing Nitti’s vault. You can actually go see all of this any time Harry Carey’s is open, so there’s no need to wait until the next Open House Chicago to explore.

In walking down State Street, I fast-forwarded about 80 years and headed to Roosevelt University’s vertical campus, the Wabash Tower. During my internship in Chicago almost two years ago now (!), I watched the construction of this building from my bedroom window. I remember being awestruck by it when I came to town for the Chicago Marathon in 2011, and I couldn’t wait to see what it looked like inside.

That’s the view from the 11th floor. It’s probably a good thing I never made it in here while I was actually in college, because I probably would’ve transferred for the views alone. The vertical campus is a really cool concept–nearly all of Roosevelt is housed in this single, 32-story building. Classrooms, labs, lecture halls, and offices–including their president’s office–are all on the lower levels. A gym, a cafeteria, and a student lounge take up other floors, and floors 15 through 32 are reserved for student housing. Can you imagine having a view like that out your dorm window?

I left Roosevelt through their Auditorium Building, which was so ornate and beautiful it hurt. I was just passing through, though, because I had a very special-to-me place to visit.

During my semester in Chicago, I had the privilege of calling 24 E. Congress Parkway–the J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Hostel–home. Though the building is, obviously, a hostel, when it was originally repurposed into the hostel 12 years ago, the upper floors were converted into student housing for Columbia College. Columbia moved out a few years ago, and my program managed to snag the top floor of the hostel for our student housing. Since then, another college program has taken over the floor, but the hostel still holds a special place in my heart since it was my first Chicago home. The building itself, of course, didn’t make me who I am today, but that semester had a greater impact on my life than any other college experience and since the hostel was my home base during that semester I have a lot of positive associations with it. I imagine our tour guide in the hostel thought I was a nut because I couldn’t stop grinning like a fool the entire time I was there 🙂

Unexpected Sunday afternoon plans kept me from exploring more–though given the weather situation on Sunday, I probably wouldn’t have gone anyway–but I’m so glad I at least got to see five different buildings. If you’re at all interested in architecture, Chicago history, or just want to poke around the city and see places you normally can’t, I highly recommend taking advantage of any future Open House Chicagos. It was 100% worth every penny I didn’t have to spend 😉

Have you explored places in Chicago/your town?
What would your ideal office look like?

14 thoughts on “Curious

  1. So happy you got out to see some places! I had an appointment to visit the Roosevelt Vertical Campus and canceled due to silly office issues (I have an architecture degree and work in the design field). I think the concept is so cool.

    A lot of my work is about mobility in offices – open space, collboration, etc. I prefer an office that has space for collaboration and quiet when needed. It has to be more open though. Not a lot of offices. Ew.

    • If you ever get another chance to check out their vertical campus, you definitely should! It’s incredible. I also think I would’ve been all over something like that during winter in college — taking the elevator down 10 floors sure beats trudging through snow and wind to get to class!

      I’m 100% with you on that kind of office design. We’ve definitely go the open space aspect down where I work…not so much on the quiet, but it’s usually manageable.

    • I’ll go with you next time! It seriously was so awesome. Although honestly, it’s not really the worst thing in the world to do by yourself. That way you can go at your own pace, see what you want to see, etc. And/or completely alter your plans when the weather turns grumpy, haha.

    • Bahhhhhh jealous of your friend. If I hadn’t ended up with my job, I had every intention of trying to get a job in high tech because most of their offices are so cool.

  2. My husband and I visited Chicago 2 years ago and it was one of my all-time favorite trips. We ended up spending hours walking around the old, Chicago library building. We were just floored by the architecture! My husband has a business restoring natural stone and we just gawked at the mosaics and marble and the incredible chandelier. Truly beautiful. We also got coffee from Intelligentsia in the Monadnock building on W. Jackson (another old building) and popcorn from Garretts. Thanks for bringing back some fond memories!

    • Oh man, yeah, the Chicago Cultural Center (the old library) is crazy beautiful. I read somewhere…I don’t remember where…that during the 60s some people wanted to tear the building down to make room for skyscrapers and such. Thankfully it’s on the National Register of Historic Places now, so that can’t happen, but I can’t even comprehend how anyone could look at a building that beautiful and say, “You know what would look way better here? Cold, hard, grey steel.”

  3. Pingback: Open House Chicago | accidental intentions

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