9 Sep 17  |  Chicago Tribune

Chicago Architecture Foundation gets a new home

by Blair Kamin

The Chicago Architecture Foundation, best known for its architecture tours that ply the Chicago River, plans to move to new and larger quarters next year — a riverfront office building that soars above the dock for its tour boats.

The nonprofit group last week signed a 20-year lease for a high-profile headquarters at 111 E. Wacker Drive , just east of Michigan Avenue, and expects to move there in summer 2018.

The new home, called the Chicago Architecture Center, will be almost twice at big as the foundation's current one and will include such features as a two-story "Skyscape Gallery" that showcases innovations in tall building design in Chicago and around the world.

There also will be room for an expansion of the foundation's Chicago Model, which currently represents 400 blocks of the city and more than 1,000 buildings.

"We're going to the next phase of our growth where we become a destination for the discovery of architecture and design in Chicago," said Lynn Osmond, the foundation's president.

Located since 1992 in a D.H. Burnham & Co.-designed office building at 224 S. Michigan Ave., the foundation still will have a home with a distinguished architectural pedigree. Completed in 1970, 111 E. Wacker was designed by the Office of Mies van der Rohe, named for the master modernist who died in 1969.

111 E. Wacker's lower floors are currently being remodeled, turning former outdoor plazas into glass-sheathed interiors. A rendering shows that the architecture center will occupy a ground-floor welcome and tour center and, above it, a two-story exhibition area that overlooks the Chicago River and the Michigan Avenue bridge. The group's logo, which features the letter "C" wrapped around a circle, will appear on a glass wall fronting the river.

"When you walk in, you will be greeted by this monumental stair that will take you up to the Skyscape Gallery," Osmond said.

The Chicago firm of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, whose projects include the soon-to-open expansion of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier, will design the architecture center's interior. The New York firm Local Projects will handle exhibition spaces, which will comprise 9,000 square feet of the 20,000-square-foot center. The center will have five times more exhibition space than the CAF's current home.

The foundation also will move its offices from 224 S. Michigan to 111 E. Wacker, occupying about 10,000 square feet of office space. And the starting point for many of the foundation's tours will shift to the riverfront high-rise.

But the architecture center won't provide a home for several architecture organizations under one roof.

In 2005, when the CAF announced it had received a $50,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to study the feasibility of expanding or moving, Osmond discussed the possibility that the offices of the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects could be folded into the complex. Offices of the building trades also might be included, she said then, as they are in architecture centers in some European cities.

But such opportunities for cross-fertilization did not come to fruition.

"There is not enough space, and (the) timing of our lease and other like-minded organizations did not coincide," Osmond wrote in an email.

Founded in 1966, the CAF draws 672,000 visitors annually, Osmond said, a figure that accounts for attendance at education programs, exhibitions and docent-led tours.

The group is seeking contributions of $10 million for the new space and an expansion of its public programs. It has raised "a couple of million dollars so far," Osmond said.

The foundation's current location at 224 S. Michigan Ave., near the Art Institute of Chicago and Millennium Park, has helped it draw visitors. Asked if the move to 111 E. Wacker would depress attendance, Osmond pointed to the soon-to-be-completed Apple store at 401 N. Michigan Ave., expected to open later this year.

"I think it's going to be easier," she said of drawing crowds. "With the Apple store, the new nucleus of Michigan Avenue will move farther south."