What to Expect at Open House Chicago’s “No-Entry” (But Still Awesome!) 2020 Edition

The annual celebration of Chicago's coolest spaces is doing things a little differently this year

October 15, 2020 10:37 am
given castle open house
Given Castle in Beverly
Eric Allix Rogers/Open House Chicago

Ah Open House Chicago, a unique architectural event that invites people into the homes and workplaces of some of Chicago’s most stunning buildings. Unfortunately, it’s 2020 and we can’t have nice things anymore.

Fear not, dear reader! The annual event has been reimagined for the current era – where entering private spaces in crowds is borderline criminal. On the plus side of this new iteration: the event has been expanded from a single jam-packed weekend to a spacious 10-day affair. 

Kicking off on Friday, October 16, and running through Sunday, October 25, there’s plenty of time to participate. The obvious drawback is you can’t enter any buildings. Even so, OHC remains a boon for architecture fans. It’s all about facades this year, and Chicago boasts some winning ones.

At the recommendation of public health officials, OHC 2020 includes zero access to any building interiors. The website instructs attendees to wear face coverings at all times, and maintain a minimum six feet of social distance while exploring any neighborhoods. Dress for the weather and pack your warm mask; there are more than 20 neighborhoods to explore.

Virtual Events

Virtual programming and self-guided tours are bolstering this year’s offering big time. OHC has planned over two dozen panel discussions, presentations and virtual tours. Events are a mix of free and paid, with a few only open to CAC members. Options include:

OHC Trails

OHC has curated dozens of tours that you can walk, ride or drive along. Download the OHC 2020 app for programming information and on-the-go maps.

I recommend:

  • Pilsen Mosaic Neighborhood Trail: For more than 50 years, Pilsen has been a hub for Mexican muralists, and this trail highlights five colorful mosaics. 
  • First Family Favorites: Mayor Lori Lightfoot and First Lady Amy Eshleman provide audio commentary on a walk about their longtime neighborhood Logan Square. 
  • North Shore Historic Homes: For the weary of foot, take up this drive and ogle at 11 classic and modern selections from Winnetka and Glencoe’s Historical Societies. You’ll be in the neighborhood of the Botanic Garden, so maybe pop over there after.
  • 10 Iconic Chicago Buildings: It’s never a bad time to pick up some fun facts on Chicago icons like The Rookery, Marina City or the Chicago Board of Trade. One day we’ll need elevator small talk again.

Exterior Tours

For those that just want to stand in front of something stunning, check out my picks below.

The Moody Church, via Open House Chicago

The Moody Church

1630 N Clark St

Regardless of your personal theology, it’s hard to not be impressed by the brickwork. To me, The Moody Church represents an era where we built beautiful pieces of art, by hand. Classified as a grand example of “Romanesque Revival churches in the United States,” the 3,700-seat sanctuary (which you can’t go into) is the largest column-free auditorium in Chicago. There’s plenty to admire on the outside of this North Side treasure, though. 

Solstice on the Park, via Open House Chicago

Solstice on the Park

1616 E 56th St

The namesake park of this 26-floor apartment building is Jackson Park, and making a trip to the honeycombed tower a no-brainer. Stretch your legs in Jackson Park’s gardens, then approach the building at dusk to watch the sunset paint the building’s windows into a sort of ombre rubix cube. Eight other Hyde Park structures made the roster, including The Museum of Science and Industry, so if time allows check in on the female columns that hold up the 1893 icon.

UE Hall, via Open House Chicago

UE Hall

37 S Ashland Ave

Vibrant murals really slap during a facade-based architectural tour. Built in 1904 for the West End Woman’s Club, this building now serves as working headquarters of the United Electrical Workers Western Region. In 1999, Mexican muralist Daniel Manrique completed “Hands of Solidarity” celebrating the UE and its sister union in Mexico. Inside the building lies another doozy in the style of Diego Rivera that tells this history of industrial unionism. Bookmark that for 2021.

The Plant, via Open House Chicago

Whiner Beer Co. / The Plant

1400 W 46th St

Those in it for the pics might enjoy this warehouse in Back of the Yards with a bEER sign affixed to the roof. The 100,000-square-foot facility formerly dealt in meatpacking, but now is home to some 20 businesses including indoor farms, a bakery, and beer and kombucha breweries. The Whiner Beer Co. taproom is open, so grab a pint and picture.

Bahá’í House of Worship

100 Linden Ave, Wilmette

I put it on the list again because it’s simply incomparable. If you haven’t been here yet, go right now. It’s inspiring, consuming architecture. A mandala come to life. The perennial favorite is perfect for an exterior-only tour, and Bahá’í House of Worship should be the top of your list. 

Pui Tak Center, via Open House Chicago

Pui Tak Center

2216 S. Wentworth Ave.

Speaking of iconic buildings, the Pui Tak Center might be the most recognized building in Chinatown (and the only one with historical landmark status). According to OHC, the building’s two main colors, red and jade green, symbolize joy and affluence respectively. Play “I spy” searching the center’s colorful terra cotta for traditional Chinese symbols like xiezhi dragons, fish and intricate flowers.

The Poetry Foundation, via Open House Chicago

Poetry Foundation

61 W Superior St

You might think it wouldn’t be worth stopping in at the home of Poetry magazine — a building that houses more than 30,000 volumes of poetry — if you can’t go inside, but the calming courtyard is a lovely place to peer into the glass-encased offices of the Poetry Foundation. It’s no wonder the American Institute of Architects bestowed the space with their highest recognition for excellence. Dig deep and see if you aren’t inspired to whip out a rhyming couplet or two.

Unity Temple, via Open House Chicago

Unity Temple

875 Lake St, Oak Park

Were you aware that Frank Lloyd Wright designed a house of worship? We all could stand a bit of unity, and if intoxicatingly symmetrical designs are all it takes. Reservations are required for this location, so sign up online. 

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