Chicagoans got a backstage pass to some of the city’s most stunning architecture during Open House Chicago (OHC). The Chicago Architecture Center’s ninth annual festival of architecture and design invited visitors inside 350 sites on October 19 and 20. Thousands of attendees came face-to-face with exclusive rooftops, private clubs, and little-known neighborhood gems.
This year, OHC offered behind-the-scenes access to sites in 38 Chicago neighborhoods and the surrounding suburbs of Evanston and Oak Park. The northwest side neighborhoods of Irving Park, Jefferson Park, and Portage Park were featured for the first time.
OHC took us from a 7,000-ton ship in Lake Michigan to a historic ballroom and an Art Deco skyscraper. Check out some of our favorite architectural finds from the event.
Essex on the Park
This brand-new luxury apartment building hosted visitors in its prime location overlooking Grant Park. The skyscraper is also the first building in Chicago to receive WELL Certification for healthy living, including spaces for relaxing and socializing. The seventh-floor winter garden welcomed attendees to lounge in the all-white interior and admire the infinity pool and impressive park views.
Fine Arts Building
The sound of music is alive in the Fine Arts Building. Since 1898, it has been home to artists of all kinds, including Frank Lloyd Wright and Wizard of Oz illustrator W. W. Denslow, who had offices there. Ride one of the city’s only manually operated elevators and explore the sunny Venetian Court, a series of Art Nouveau murals, and a Frank Lloyd Wright stained-glass window.
Columbia Yacht Club
One of the weekend’s best views came via the water. Visitors boarded the MV Abegweit, a 372-foot ship docked in Lake Michigan that was once used for ice breaking and ferrying railcars. Since 1982, the ship has been home to the Columbia Yacht Club, a private boating and sailing organization that is not usually open to visitors.
One Two Pru
With sweeping views of Millennium Park and Michigan Avenue, ample lounge space, and a food truck, the 11th-floor roof deck of One Two Pru is enviable to say the least. Watch the elevated trains rumbling by, crowds taking selfies at the Bean, and boats floating by on the lake. The modernist skyscraper even boasted the city’s highest roof when it was built in 1955.
333 North Michigan Avenue
Visitors came eye to eye with some of Chicago’s most famous buildings from vantages in the Art Deco skyscraper at 333 North Michigan Avenue. The storied Tavern Club, which once boasted Carl Sandburg as a member, opened its private doors to its newly renovated lounge. Design firm Eastlake Studio showed off a private rooftop terrace overlooking Michigan Avenue and furniture by Herman Miller and Mies van der Rohe.
Carl Street Studios
The courtyard at Carl Street Studios has an enchanted feel, with design details peeking out from every corner. The former mansion was transformed into an artists colony by multidisciplinary artist Edgar Miller in the 1930s. Miller was a master of around 30 mediums, and his work in wood carving, mosaics, ceramics, and stained glass shines in this charming courtyard.
First Saint Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
This church is a minimalist, elegant take on ecclesiastical design. While it was founded in 1847 in Chicago’s early years, the current modernist building was built by Edwin Dart in 1970. A sparse, rounded brick wall calls attention to the cross illuminated by a hidden window. The church is also home to an angel statue that survived the Great Chicago Fire.
Ambassador Chicago Hotel
Many a celebrity has passed through the doors of the Ambassador Chicago Hotel, and especially its former Pump Room Restaurant. Yet few people have visited the boutique hotel’s 17th-floor private event space. An outdoor terrace offers views of Lake Michigan and Chicago’s skyline from the north, bringing iconic buildings like the John Hancock Center within view.
School of the Art Institute of Chicago Grand Ballroom
We don’t take a turn on historic ballroom floors as often as we’d like, but spinning on SAIC’s terrazzo dance floor made up for it. Its historic preservation department restored the ballroom to its 1930s appearance, including re-creating the original carpet based on photographs. With 26-foot ceilings, marble columns, and a grand piano, it would be a sumptuous setting for your next event.
Chicago Loop Synagogue
Known as “perhaps the most beautiful synagogue interior in the United States,” the Chicago Loop Synagogue’s stained-glass eastern wall shines. It took artist Abraham Rattner three years to complete the stained-glass wall, which was fabricated by leading Paris stained-glass studio Barrillet’s. The intricate design features ancient Hebrew symbols and conveys the relationship between God, humanity, and the universe.