One of Chicago’s most pleasing summer diversions, organized walking tours focused on the city’s rich and diverse architectural heritage, resumed earlier this week as the nonprofit Chicago Architecture Center gears up to physically reopen on July 3 after being shuttered—save for a robust and ongoing slate of online CAC Live programming—to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March. The Center will be open Thursdays through Mondays with modified hours and COVID-19 safety measures, including the mandatory donning of face coverings.
As part of the reopening, the Center will debut seven new architectural models—on loan from the likes of SOM, JAHN, and Studio Gang—in its Drake Family Skyscraper Gallery. Thirty new additions to the 4,250-building Chicago City Model Experience will also be shown for the first time since the Center closed.
As for CAC’s themed walking tours, select neighborhood-focused options officially kicked off on June 20. New downtown-centered walks will commence on July 3 and depart three times daily from the Center’s new-ish Mies van der Rohe-designed home at 111 E. Wacker Drive above the recently reopened Chicago Riverwalk. In total, 50 different walking tour options, all limited to groups of six or less, will be available to the general public and CAC members: Public CAC walking tours, private My Social Circle tours open to “friends and family,” and custom Architecture Conversations tours. Prices range from $26-to-$375 for the last option. Public tours, as always, are free to CAC members. Reservations must be made in advance and all walk-up bookings for tours departing from the Center are suspended until further notice. Like at the Center itself, face coverings are required on the walking tours.
“We’re thrilled to finally be able to welcome visitors back to the Center and join us on the many CAC walking tours we’ve already started to reinstate,” Lynn J. Osmond, president and CEO of the Chicago Architecture Center, told AN in an emailed statement. “We also did everything we could to take advantage of more than three months of unplanned ‘down time’ at the Center.”
“Even those who visited us in early March will notice a lot of exciting changes to our largest exhibits. It’s important for me to take this opportunity to thank our CAC members, too, who’ve stuck with us and turned out in impressive numbers for about 50 CAC Live events we’ve offered online, with many more to come throughout the summer,” Osmond continued. “We’re glad to be able to keep our members and families engaged now with multiple options, meeting them however and wherever they’re most comfortable being with us and sharing the stories of this amazing and resilient city.”
Wildly popular CAFC River Cruises are also slated to depart again from the Riverwalk on July 3 to coincide with the reopening of the Center, according to the CAC website. Led by CAC docents, 90-minute architectural tours aboard Chicago’s First Lady are among the city’s top attractions, and architectural boat excursions operated by different companies have since resumed business. As noted by the Chicago Tribune’s Blair Kamin, passenger bookings for those cruises have so far been on the lighter (nearly empty) side so far.
The Center has also announced its full CAC Live virtual summer lineup for those who can’t make it to Chicago. Offerings include the Women in Architecture Tour (June 30), Building Tall on Broad Shoulders (July 8), and Gothic Chicago (July 22).
In addition to the announcement that it is resuming modified, non-virtual operations, the Center has also shared news that it has received a $300,000 award from the National Endowment for the Humanities through the $40.3 million NEH CARES Grant Act. Portions of the funding will be used to “extend and expand” CAC Live programming, developed and led by the Center’s small army of docents and volunteers, and to develop digital tools for public use during the annual Open House Chicago festival, still slated for October 17–18. Per a press release, the funds will also be used to introduce a “new slate of remotely accessible, online classes, discussions and lectures that welcome people from across and beyond Chicago to learn more about architecture, design culture and urbanism.”