What is Open House Chicago (OHC)?
It is an annual citywide festival, with sites and events distributed throughout multiple neighborhoods, areas, and select Chicago suburbs that each provide free and open access to the public at the participating locations. The festival itself is produced by the Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) which is one of the largest cultural non-profit organizations in Chicago that offers tours, programs, exhibitions, and events for all ages. Their mission is “to inspire people to discover why design matters” and with the help of collaborating with local community businesses and partners each year they are able to offer indoor access to buildings of architectural, cultural, and historical significance for OHC. With each site and neighborhood representing the architectural innovation and experimentation which gives Chicago its dynamic history, cultural diversity, and unique aspects of each community the CAC selects and considerations are informed by the theme of each year’s festivals allowing new variation of sites and locations every year.
South Dakota State Universities Connection
In October of 2019 South Dakota State University’s Department of Architecture (DoArch) organized a trip to the Chicago Open House. Students were led by Robert Arlt and Brian Lee to explore the urban fabric of the city and to discuss many famous buildings up close. Some of those included the Federal Center by Mies van der Rohe, The Thompson Center, The Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Marina Towers, Poetry Foundation, IIT campus, and the Aqua Tower to name a few. The group also visited some firms including BKL and HDR Chicago.
Two Most Notable Stops
The two locations often mentioned and referenced back to in our Studio and History classes would be:
- Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT)
When visiting the IIT, the class walked the campus and visited the Kaplan Institute with its interconnected courtyards and ETFE Façade, The McCormick Tribune Campus Center, and of course Crown Hall. When walking the campus, we observed how the basic classroom buildings were the model for how school buildings would be designed across the country during the mid-nineteenth century. Entering Crown Hall seemed familiar, and almost as if we were stepping into a piece of SDSU in Chicago. The similarities of Crown Hall and the Chicoine Architecture Mathematics, and Engineering Hall (AME) are quite impressive. Both are centered around large open studios that are filled with natural light and allow for classes to interact with each other. It was eerie to see the similarities between two architecture schools, one in the Windy City and one on the windy Great Plains.
- The Poetry Foundation
The Poetry Foundation presents itself on the corner of W. Superior St. and N. Dearborn St. clad in an all-black screen wall which provides coverage for the interior garden space that serves as an urban sanctuary allowing space between the street and building to provide a sense of removal from the city. A Continuation from the exterior to the interior is an unfolding of layers much like a poem itself. The spaces within the Poetry Foundation all serve particular purposes with one of those spaces being the performance space. The performance space is dedicated to the spoken word such as poetry readings so the space was designed acoustically for there to be no need for amplification of microphones. So, in different locations within the space, the surfaces were to reflect, absorb and diffuse noise to help the listeners be able to hear the speaker. For no poets were speaking on the day of the trip there were chairs located and facing different directions almost like an art exhibit for the ears to hear different sensations in different locations.
OHC 2020 and Future Open Houses
Thanks to the OHC we were able to explore places and gain more of an understanding of certain places that aren’t normally accessible during the rest of the year. Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, OHC 2020 had been reimagined to support public health and safety, with a hybrid model including both online programs and self-guided, themed, and outdoor tours available via the OHC 2020 mobile app. Festival attendees were asked to wear face coverings and practice social distancing while exploring the 2020 festival’s featured communities and neighborhoods. The OHC 2021 dates and locations for later this year have yet to be released there are other Open House festivals that one can look into in the meantime. OHC is, in fact, a part of the Open House Worldwide family with more than 40 cities around the world including London, Barcelona, and Seoul having adopted Open House creating the first global architecture festival reaching more than 1 million people. Being able to take advantage of online formats that such as OHC are great ways to experience or learn about something new in locations you may not have the opportunity to experience otherwise especially in times like these with travel being limited and personal health and wellness being a priority.
By Shylo Hilbert
Shylo Hilbert is a 3rd-year architecture student at South Dakota State University. She acts as the current Treasurer of SDSU’s AIAS chapter. Shylo plans to finish her undergraduate degree and graduate next spring of 2022 with hopes to continue on towards her M. Arch.