Family Fun

A Walk Through the New Chicago Architecture Center

The CAC has spiffy new digs

Credit: Tom Harris

Chicago recently welcomed its latest cultural destination, as the Chicago Architecture Center opened its sleek new doors to the public. Previously known as the Chicago Architecture Foundation, CAC debuted a new name and a new riverfront home at 111 East Wacker Drive.

The 20,000-sq.-ft. center is a destination for discovering the “first city of modern architecture,” inviting visitors to experience CAC’s exhibits, public programs and tours. From worker’s cottages to skyscrapers, the Center explores Chicago’s contributions to architecture as well as the future of design around the world.

After spending 25 years in the Daniel Burnham-designed Railway Exchange Building, the Chicago Architecture Center moved to One Illinois Center, designed by Mies van der Rohe. Chicago-based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture designed the space by enclosing what was formerly an outdoor plaza.

Visitors are drawn into the center by 40-ft. windows that illuminate the space with natural light and offer a peek at the models. On the first floor, the Chicago Gallery tells the story of the city’s rise to become the epicenter of modern architecture. Exhibits highlight Chicago’s neighborhoods, vernacular architecture and current developments.

Credit: Tom Harris

The “Chicago Model Experience” is the centerpiece of the gallery. A favorite at the foundation’s previous location, the 3D-printed model Chicago has expanded from 1,300 to over 4,200 buildings. The interactive exhibit allows visitors to illuminate the model using a touch screen to illustrate the city’s growth, the reach of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the world’s first skyscrapers.

Super-sized models of skyscrapers loom on the second floor as part of the “Building Tall” exhibit in the Drake Family Skyscraper Gallery. The exhibit explores how architects innovate to push boundaries and design super tall buildings. Visitors can examine models of 23 skyscrapers from around the world (including the Willis Tower and Jeddah Tower) while admiring the stunning views of Chicago icons outside like the Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower.

The Usher Lambe Rotating Gallery will feature new exhibits several times per year in a sunny second-floor space. Currently on display, “From Me to We: Imagining the City of 2050” explores urban disrupters (including energy and technology) and how they will affect the city of the future.

The new Chicago Architecture Center also features a lecture hall, design studio and award-winning store stocked with fun gifts for design enthusiasts. An orientation hall is the new launching pad for CAC’s 85 guided tours, which are led via walking, bike, bus, train and boat. In it’s new home, the center is conveniently located above the dock for Chicago’s First Lady Cruises used for the wildly popular CAC boat tours.

The Chicago Architecture Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, 362 days a year (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day). Admission is $12 and free to members.