Chicago Architecture Biennial: Five Fantastic Tours

Chicago Architecture Biennial: Five Fantastic Tours
The Frank Lloyd Wright designed RC Johnson campus. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The City of Chicago and its suburbs provide an architectural showcase for the world from Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie style masterpieces to Louis Sullivan's authentic, American style designs and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's handsome, sleek black steel skyscrapers.

This fall the Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB)--is exploring all dimensions of architecture--offering a platform for radical new thought about what the building environment should be in the 21st century while using the past as a lens to view the future.

The Biennial also offers an opportunity for the public to learn about the extraordinary ways in which architects, artists, designers, planners, activists, and policy makers from around the world are tackling the most pressing issues of today.

It is providing this opportunity through an on-going series of exhibitions, discussions, special events, programming and tours--many of which are free--now through January 3, 2016.

A good place to get a handle on what's going on area-wide is to head to the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington). The Cultural Center is offering a series of exhibitions and and programs while also serving as home base to learn about the hundreds of happenings throughout the city and beyond.

Originally built to serve two distinct purposes as Chicago’s first public library and the Memorial Hall of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Chicago Cultural Center was designed by the architecture firm Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge and completed in 1897. The building is designed in a classic Beaux Arts style with Greek and Roman architectural elements popularized by the World’s Columbian Exposition. Preston Bradley Hall, once the library’s reading room, is home to the world’s largest Tiffany glass dome ceiling. Today, the Chicago Cultural Center presents hundreds of free annual events showcasing artists, musicians and performers from around the world and is home to one of Chicago's Visitor Centers.  78 E. Washington.

The Cultural Center, itself, is an architectural gem from its Tiffany Dome to its mosaics. Originally built to serve two distinct purposes as Chicago’s first public library and the Memorial Hall of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Chicago Cultural Center was designed by the architecture firm Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge and completed in 1897.

It is designed in a classic Beaux Arts style with Greek and Roman architectural elements popularized by the World’s Columbian Exposition. Preston Bradley Hall, once the library’s reading room, is home to the world’s largest Tiffany glass dome ceiling.

During the run of the Chicago Architecture Biennial the Cultural Center will offer free 10 am. tours through the exhibitions.  Tours will meet in the lobby near the Washington St. entrance. (No tours on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day New Year's Eve, or New Year's Day). Reservations required. Through January 3, 2016.

In addition the the Chicago Cultural Center tour, here are five more tours that I highly recommend.

1. Wingspread and the SC Johnson Campus

The Frank Lloyd Wright designed Wingspread in Racine, WI. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The Frank Lloyd Wright designed Wingspread in Racine, WI. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

This FREE tour provided by the SC Johnson Company takes a full day but it highly worth the time spent for anyone with an interest in architecture and especially Frank Lloyd Wright. Throughout the Biennial, free shuttles will transport visitors to Racine, Wisconsin to explore the Wright-designed SC Johnson corporate headquarters.

Participants will visit the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Administration Building (opened in 1939) and Research Tower (opened in 1950), as well as the newly refurbished 1940s office of SC Johnson’s former president H. F. Johnson Jr. and Fortaleza Hall, designed by Foster + Partners.

The tour will continue with a shuttle to Wingspread--the last and largest of Wright’s Prairie-style houses--designed for H. F. Johnson Jr. in the late 1930s. They will have full access to the 14,000 square foot home and the grounds.

Wingspread interior. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Wingspread interior. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Highlights of the home include the Wright-designed disappearing dining table, the teepee-inspired clerestory ceiling in the great room, and the cantilevered “Romeo and Juliet” balcony bedroom. Tours Depart from Chicago Cultural Center, 77 E Randolph St. Reservations required.

2. Jane Addams Hull-House Museum

Jane Adams Hull House.

Jane Adams Hull House.

The Hull-House tour will give visitors a glimpse into neighborhood conditions in the Near West Side at the turn of the twentieth century in Chicago and to learn about the Model Tenement Movement, the foundational moments of public housing, and how the buildings of the Hull-House settlement embodied the ideals of the Progressive Era.

Tours will take place on selected days through January 3, 2016. Free but registration is required.

3. Second Presbyterian Church

Interior of the Second Presbyterian Church. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Interior of the Second Presbyterian Church. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Second Presbyterian Church is Chicago's only National Historic Landmark church. Highlights include: a completely intact 1901 interior featuring Arts and Crafts design, nine Tiffany windows, 13 murals by Frederic Clay Bartlett and two rare Edward Burne-Jones windows.

Highly trained docents are available to give in-depth tours of the art and architecture and explain current restoration efforts.

Tours are available on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 1:00 - 3:00 pm and on Sundays from Noon - 2:00 pm. Reservations and information.

4. Stony Island Arts Bank

Stoney Island Bank.

Stony Island Bank.

The amazing restoration of the Stony Island Bank building by Rebuild Foundation's artistic director Theaster Gates into an arts and cultural center is a joy to behold.

The original bank was designed by William Gibbons Uffendell and  built in 1923. Located at 68th Street and Stony Island Avenue, the bank was once part of a vibrant neighborhood hub until it fell into disrepair by the 1980's and remained vacant for decades. The restoration has given the space a new life as a space for neighborhood residents to share their heritage as well as a destination for artists, scholars curators and collectors to research and engage with the South Side.

The tour will include viewings of two Biennial commissions: an installation by Portuguese artist Carlos Bunga and a courtyard designed by Mexican architect Frida Escobedo.

Guests can view five of Rebuild Foundation’s collections, several of which focus on black history and culture, including the Johnson Publishing Company's library and “godfather of House music” Frankie Knuckles' vinyl collection.

Tours are free and open to the public, but reservations are required. For more information, please visit Stony Island Arts Bank's website here. Weekly on Saturdays through January 3, 2016 (except for December 26th).

5. Charnley-Persky House

Charnley-Persky House.

Charnley-Persky House. Photo: Chicago Tribune

The Charnley-Persky House, designed by Louis Sullivan of the firm Adler & Sullivan (1891–1982), is one of the few extant buildings that displays the combined talents of Louis Sullivan and his then-draftsman, Frank Lloyd Wright. It is recognized as a seminal house in the development of modern residential design as well as a keystone in the architectural philosophies of Sullivan and Wright.

Guided tours of the house are available but reservations and a fee are required.

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