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Leading architecture space re-opens as the Chicago Architecture Center
by Ariel Parrella-Aureli
2018-09-08

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Walking into the new architecture center downtown can at first be overwhelming.

A futuristic map of the world with tall buildings and what the future of Chicago might look like grabs one's attention—with a deep blue sea and population numbers for 2050 floating next to building dimensions.

Scale models of famous skyscrapers from Chicago and globally sit on the other side of the wall, showcasing the tallest buildings in the world. It's part of the "Building Tall" inaugural exhibit in the new Drake Family Skyscraper Gallery, which is just one of the new features of The Chicago Architecture Center, 111 E. Wacker Drive. The CAC was formerly the Chicago Architecture Foundation. It opened to the public Aug. 31 after a ribbon-cutting ceremony Aug. 29.

The 20,000 square-foot center is two floors of remodeled space, three galleries, a classroom, a lecture hall and a gift shop. The building was designed by the world-famous firm Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture and overlooks a plethora of some of Chicago's iconic buildings—the Wrigley Building, the Tribune Tower and Marina City. Its opening marks a new, advanced beginning for people to learn about Chicago's strong architectural history, present and future.

Lynn Osmond, CAC's CEO and president, wants the new center to represent the future of Chicago and be a place for youth, community and culture to coalesce. She said the new home for Chicago's architecture scene will enable the CAC to offer valuable experiences to visitors and students and engage them in new ways of learning about the city's architecture and design history.

"When you are talking about a city in a built environment, we certainly embrace Chicago's architectural legacy but also look at the future and how we continue being the city of architecture," Osmond said. "We never want to be antiquated because Chicago's history is one of innovation and we want to encourage our architects but also the children of tomorrow to continue to innovate."

Osmond said the industry does not have many female architects but that CAC 's program called Girls Build is trying to change that. It gives young girls the critical skills so they are encouraged to go into the design field. The Skyscraper Gallery also features two leading women architects: Zaha Hadid, whose buildings are in Soho, China and Jeanne Gang, who is from Illinois.

"We wanted to show there is room both for women and people of color in this profession," she said. And that encompasses the LGBTQ community as well.

"What is wonderful about the design community is that the LGBTQ community really [is] central of it—so many of our designers that we work with are part of that community and I encourage that," she said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is a big supporter of the CAC and helped cut the ribbon. He shared his appreciation of the space and called architecture Chicago's family jewels—jewels that unite the city and the 140 languages spoken in the Chicago Public Schools.

"The world has a lot of forces tearing us apart but design, architecture and conversation can create a common understanding and bring us together," Emanuel said.

He added that architecture can be a humanitarian force and the city's skyline is for everyone—a student in Roseland can call it home just as a student in Ravenswood can.

"Both children can say, that's my home, that's my city," he said.

One of the galleries accommodates perhaps one of the most dramatic, detailed structures in all of the CAC: The Chicago Model, housed in the appropriately-fitting gallery, The Chicago Gallery. The 3D printed model of the city spans more than 800 square feet and took about 20 years to build, said Hugh Welsh, president of Royal DSM North America, the science-based company who built the model.

"You can imagine how much joy it creates to replicate the city you love and bring your children [and] grandchildren here and show them not only what you do but the impact you have on a place like this," Welsh said.

He said the model originally debuted in 2006 as part of Chicago's Centennial Celebration and since then has been updated yearly to include new buildings. It encompasses 630 city blocks and 4,250 buildings. As new buildings are created or old ones are taken down, the model is updated to reflect that, Welsh said, noting that the project has logged thousands of hours in creating the material—stereolithography resins—and called it a labor of love. Each 3D structure takes about one hour and 23 minutes to print, though it depends on its size. For example, the Railway Exchange Building took 20 hours to print.

"The remarkable engineers that work for our company take great pride and pleasure in being part of this project and as DSM continues to evolve, so does the city of Chicago," he said.

A film and interactive light show illuminate the model to show Chicago's early growth, its rebirth after the Great Chicago Fire, the city's first skyscrapers, which ones were built by which architects and modernist masterpieces. It even shows all the bike lanes in the city by darkening the model and lighting up the paths. These kinds of interactive tools will help students better learn in a fun way about their city and connect to it as their home, Osmond said.

See www.architecture.org/ .


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