Open House Chicago 2016

My favorite weekend of the year rolled around this past weekend, and, for the fifth year in a row, I spent a good portion of the third weekend on October traipsing around the city for Open House Chicago. I had plans for the entire day Sunday, which meant I needed to squeeze as much into Saturday as possible. This year, I managed to see 10 different venues in six hours, which I believe is an Open House PR for me.

The day began at University Tower on the campus of UIC. I have had many…opinions…on UIC for years, stemming in equal parts from my distaste for brutalistic architecture and my outrage at the neighborhood displacement UIC caused (though, as what is arguably my favorite radio show of all time, Curious City, pointed out earlier this month, perhaps I have beetn slightly misinformed about Daley’s intentions in placing UIC where he did.). Visiting University Tower, though it did little to improve my opinions on brutalistic architecture, did teach me a lot about the campus and its history. Particular tidbits that interested me: the campus presented an interesting design challenge, as the vision for the campus laid out that the campus was to be somewhat “campus-y” (think quads, etc.), but also not look too “campus-y” – the buildings should look more urban than academic. When the campus was opened, it was meant to function exclusively as a 9-5 campus, with no residential students at all. Finally, the entire campus was built to be accessed from the second floor. Elevated walkways connected every original building on campus, so the main entrance of each building was not on the ground level, but one floor up from that. These walkways were meant to allow students to pass between buildings easily without having to wait for traffic. However, all of those walkways have since been demolished, which meant all of of the original buildings had to be retrofitted with first floor entrances. As the architecture student who talked to us said, “Imagine that you designed the greatest airplane that has ever existed, and then chopped the wings off. That’s what happened to this campus.” Fascinating! The views from the 28th floor, of course, were also fantastic.


After University Tower, it was a quick walk across where Morgan used to run through campus to the Behavioral Sciences Building (the BSB), which is quite possibly one of the strangest designed buildings I have ever entered. It felt more like a large sculpture than a building, and I was very grateful that none of the buildings at my alma mater were that confusing.

The BSB is one of the original buildings on campus, and you can still see vestiges of the now-demolished walkways, including this building sign that sits on the rooftop of the first floor:


and this gate, which covers where the walkway used to be. University Tower is in the background, and you can kind of tell that the second floor was meant to be the entrance from this angle.


Big Monster Toy Factory was the next scheduled stop, but the line was really long and time was limited, so after consulting the guide I picked up at University Tower, a quick walk through the West Loop ended at WeWork, a coworking space in a former meatpacking warehouse.


I’ve made no secret about my concern for the preservation of historic buildings, and places like WeWork really make me happy. I see building renovation, even if the renovation completely changes the function and purpose of the building, as the ultimate example of “reduce, reuse, recycle” – reduce the need for new construction (and thus new materials), reuse a building in a way that accommodates modern industry, recycle the materials available to create something new. I’m a big fan.

Another walk ended at Studio Manarchy, which is an art gallery/event space/private residence. It also is home to the biggest camera in the world.


Then it was off to an office I’ve wanted to see for years: Red Frog Events.


I was SO excited when I saw Red Frog on the lineup for this year’s Open House Chicago. When I was graduating from college, Red Frog was on my short list of places I wanted to work, and their office played no small part in making me want to work there (I don’t think I ever actually even applied, but it was a nice thought haha). Red Frog, in case you’re unfamiliar, is the company behind the Warrior Dash (and Firefly Music Festival), and their office is every bit as Millennial as you’d expect from the company that essentially started the obstacle course race scene.

The company’s main conference room has this awesome mason jar light fixture,


and also the company’s mascot, Clifford the Little Red Frog, which cracked me up.


DIRTT Environmental Solutions has been on the Open House lineup for as long as I can remember, but I’ve never had any particular interest in seeing it. This year, though, it was right on the way from Red Frog to downtown, so I saw it at long last. They also had spectacular city views.


The Builders Building was a short trip, since only the atrium was open, but you know, at least it was a pretty atrium.


Then it was off to another Open House mainstay, City Hall.


I’ve never been to City Hall at all, so this ended up being a much more interesting stop for me than I expected. I thought main floor was beautiful, and seeing the Council Chambers was pretty awesome as well. They let us sit in the mayor’s chair, which I most certainly did. There was a lot of information about the history of City Hall as well, which I found fascinating. I didn’t know, for example, that City Hall had had multiple fires, including one in the 50s that burned the entire Council Chambers.

I had hoped to go to the Lyric Opera, but it closed early, so instead followed City Hall with St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Madison, which I had never even noticed before.


There was still some time left at the church for two more stops: the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois Building, whose 30th floor was open. The 30th floor was the roof before the building’s addition in the late ’00s and had great views of Millennium Park.


And finally, the day ended at Jay Pritzer Pavilion in Millennium Park, where they let us get up on stage.


As always, I finished the day thoroughly exhausted but also utterly pleased. This is seriously my favorite event of the year, and I’m so glad my foot and I were able to make it through.

7 thoughts on “Open House Chicago 2016

  1. Considering my view from my apartment is University Tower and the UIC campus I quite enjoy it 🙂 Or I’ve gotten used to it! I do enjoy all the trees on campus, at least. Chewie does too, because they mean SQUIRRELS.
    I ran past the huge line for Big Monster. It was already crazy long at 9 AM!
    The Illinois Science Council hosts their Science Cocktail Party at DIRTT so I was there last year and I’ll be going again in a few weeks. They do have great view of the river!
    I’m also totally with you on reusing buildings instead of just tearing them down. So many West Loop buildings are getting bought and torn down and replaced with giant condo/apartment buildings. It makes me sad.

  2. Very cool! We have this here, it’s called Doors Open Milwaukee and I have seen so much cool stuff in our city going to it every year. I can’t imagine trying to do it in Chicago though – it’s just so BIG!!

    • That’s awesome! I knew they had one in New York, but I didn’t realize there was one in Milwaukee as well. You definitely have to pick and choose when doing Open House Chicago, which is the one drawback. With 200+ sites, you could never possibly see everything in two days! Fortunately there are usually a fair number of repeat buildings from year to year, so once I’ve been to those I can skip them in the future and check out other ones instead.

  3. Pingback: Thursday Things | accidental intentions

  4. Loved hearing about all the history behind UIC’s design! I wanted to visit some of the university buildings but didn’t have time, so it is great to live vicariously through your photos. I was also hoping to go to Big Monster Toys, too bad the line was so long. You saw a wonderful selection of sites this year! Are you already scheming for next year, like me? =)

    • Oh good, I’m glad I could live vicariously through your Joffrey visit and you could live through my UIC visit! I’m definitely already looking forward to OHC next year. It’s seriously my favorite weekend! I’ve got to get out of downtown next year, though. There’s so much there, but I really want to see the other things, too!

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