Chicago Autumn Architecture Roundup


Chicago has been a hive of architecture activity this fall, anchored by hosting the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial. While the month hasn’t been officially designated for design, as in New York, it has certainly felt like Archtober.

Like many other design geeks and journalists I’ve spent the last several weeks on the go absorbing these cultural opportunities. And I haven’t paid a dime for it! As I wrote for Chicagoist last month, there are 200+ free events to catch at institutions across the city!

Here’s a rundown of my fall architecture coverage, from a Frank Lloyd Wright tower in Wisconsin to a basement speakeasy in Lakeview. The Chicago Biennial runs through January 3, 2016 so there is still time to enjoy most of these attractions.


Inside The Chicago Architecture Biennial Opening Weekend

If you live in Chicago or are visiting this fall you must check out the Biennial events calendar. In just one weekend I did the following.

Watched a performance by the South Shore Drill Team at Federal Plaza. “We Know How to Order” juxtaposed the federal space and the team’s exhilarating take on drill routines.


Took a free bus trip to Racine and toured the only remaining Frank Lloyd Wright-designed commercial building as well as Wingspread, “the last of the prairie homes.”

urbnexplorer-chicago-architecture-biennial-frank-lloyd-wright urbnexplorer-chicago-architecture-biennial-wingspread urbnexplorer-chicago-architecture-biennial-wingspread

Attended a lecture by Chicago architect John Ronan on “Transcending Pragmatism,” which he argued is Chicago’s defining characteristic.


Explored the Biennial displays throughout the Chicago Cultural Center, including slides from the ’70s California underground press and Studio Gang’s research on the history of police station design.


I’ve been paging through the Biennial catalog since opening weekend, ready to return and explore the rest of the exhibits!


Touring Chicago’s Most Jaw-Dropping Architecture Sites

In mid-October, I celebrated my favorite Chicago event of the year. Open House Chicago offers free access to over 200 architectural sites across the city. From private residences to sky high corporate views, the Chicago Architecture Foundation gives Chicagoans the keys to the city. It’s impossible to see everything in two days, but wherever you go is guaranteed to give you a new perspective.

Gold Ballroom at the Congress Hotel
The Original Sears Tower in Homan Square
Medieval design elements at the Intercontinental Hotel
Aqua by Studio Gang
Art Deco abounds at the Chicago Motor Club
Face to face with icons courtesy of the Sky-Line Club
Peeking inside Marina City from the Kemper Building observatory
The Fine Arts Building’s Venetian courtyard
Room 13 speakeasy at the Old Chicago Inn

Inside Theaster Gates’ Grand Stony Island Arts Bank

The newly opened Stony Island Arts Bank has hosted visitors for both the Architecture Biennial, as an official venue, and Open House Chicago. The long vacant bank was purchased for $1 from the city by Chicago artist Theaster Gates and converted into a library and cultural center.


I look forward to spending time in the Arts Bank’s magnificent library in the coming months and to perusing Frankie Knuckles’ vinyl collection, which is included in the holdings.

urbnexplorer-stony-island-arts-bank-interior urbnexplorer-stony-island-arts-bank-catalog urbnexplorer-stony-island-arts-bank-library

A Global Architect Gets His Due at the Art Institute

Admission to the Art Institute isn’t typically free – enter my highly valued membership. While the museum’s current exhibition, Making Place: The Architecture of David Adjaye, is outside of the Architecture Biennial it is a must for design fans.

I learned as much about the world as I did architecture touring the exhibit. Adjaye’s site-specific work across the globe had me mentally hopping from Brooklyn to Oslo to Lebanon. My highlight was learning more about the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opens next year.


Chicago celebrates architecture like no other city, and this fall I hope you do too!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *