An inside look: a weekend at Open House Chicago

Sun, 2016/10/23

Last weekend, the annual architectural festival known as Open House Chicago opened the doors to many of the great structures in this city that are usually inaccessible to the public. In addition to this, volunteer guides provided insight on the history and construction of those buildings and how they are used today. Famous skyscrapers such as the Willis Tower, the Aon Center, and Lake Point Tower opened their private observation decks and restaurants free of charge. Other sites included the conference rooms at the Hard Rock Hotel, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Building mid-floor meeting rooms, apartments and amenities at 1001 State Street and Marquee at Block 37, the London House Hotel’s rooftop restaurant, the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist organs and auditorium, and the Kemper Building’s recently renovated observation deck. Even on the Illinois Tech campus, Carr Memorial Chapel and Crown Hall were open to the public so they, too, could observe and learn about the architecture of Ludwig Mies Van de Rohe.

Some locations, like Union Station, had little to offer to guests due to the ongoing renovations being done in backrooms, and other sites, like the Hard Rock Hotel, were unable to show much of their space due to the management wanting to respect the privacy of the guests staying there. Other sites, however, allowed a much more wide and free roaming experience to visitors. Sites like the Willis Tower and Aon Center allowed guests to look throughout an entire floor of the building, with no fear of security stopping them from getting their fill of the views.

Another such site open last weekend was at the House of Blues, located just off State Street between the Marina Towers. The Foundation Room in the upper floors of the restaurant provided exclusive access to the balconies above the stage and a private bar and seating area decorated with religious icons from around the globe. Several celebrities such as former president Bill Clinton and Katy Perry (and almost every band or group that has performed at the House of Blues) has relaxed before and after shows in this iconic, members-only VIP lounge.

Though the event lasts only one weekend a year, many of these locations will reopen on select dates for special events and for ticketed happenings throughout the year. Though numerous sites are clustered together in downtown Chicago, the event also stretches across much of Chicagoland, opening little known sites all over communities not commonly known for their architectural or historical treasures. Open House Chicago will return next October and the Chicago Architectural Society will reveal next year’s lineup of locations a month in advance so that visitors can clear their schedules for the weekend and decide on the sites they want to visit. With a little planning, this event can be one to make a regular day living in Chicago one to remember.