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After more than 25 years at the Railway Exchange Building, the Chicago Architecture Foundation is moving to a new location in the heart of the city, where it will establish the Chicago Architecture Center.

by Jessica Cilella, Web Editor

The new center will be located at 111 East Wacker Drive, just above the dock for the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises. It will occupy 20,000 square feet, providing the foundation with expanded space for its growing program and education initiatives. The center will open in summer 2018.

“The Chicago Architecture Center is an exciting new endeavor for the foundation and the city,” said Lynn Osmond, CAF’s president and CEO. “For more than 50 years, our board of trustees, docents, volunteers, donors and members have been unstinting supporters of CAF. We are all looking forward to providing Chicagoans and visitors with a forum to debate the future of urban areas and learn more about the city that invented the skyscraper.”

Since its founding in 1966, CAF has grown to become one of the largest cultural organizations in Chicago. In 2016, CAF reached more than 672,000 people through its 85 docent-led tours, as well as exhibitions, lectures, education programs and online tools. The new location is easily accessible for visitors and centrally located for tours, allowing CAF to add to its current historic architecture tours and tell new stories about contemporary architecture along the Chicago River, Lakeshore East and North Michigan Avenue.

The building, part of the Illinois Center complex, was included in the master site plan designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a pioneer of Modernist architecture. Visitors will be greeted at a welcome and tour center on the ground level before viewing innovative exhibition spaces conceived by New York-based exhibition design studio Local Projects and developed by Gallagher & Associates.

The Center's nearly 10,000 square feet of exhibition space will house an expanded, interactive and digitally enhanced Chicago Model  that tells the story of Chicago. The Chicago Model has been a beloved icon for tourists and locals since its 2009 debut at the Railway Exchange Building. On March 20, the Chicago Model was deconstructed in preparation for its expansion and move to the Chicago Architecture Center. It will be unavailable for viewing until the Center opens in summer 2018. 

In addition to the Chicago Model, the Center will feature a new, permanent skyscraper exhibit that overlooks the Chicago River and the Michigan Avenue Bridge. It will showcase some of the world's most significant and famous skyscrapers and explain how architects continue to push boundaries in building tall today.

The Center will also house a custom-designed lecture hall, a hands-on design studio and new retail space for CAF’s award-winning shop. The foundation’s 70 employees will be relocated to 111 East Wacker as well, in offices above the Center.

Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture (AS+GG), a world-renowned Chicago-based firm, has been selected by the CAF board of trustees to design the interior of the Center. AS+GG has experience designing numerous cultural buildings, like the addition and expansion to the Steppenwolf Theater and a new theater on Navy Pier called The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare. The firm also designed Jeddah Tower, expected to become the tallest building in the world upon completion in 2020.

“Architecturally the building is a gem,” said Gordon Gill, founding partner of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture. “The design will create a dynamic and elegant space for CAF that promotes patrons to fully engage in the influence Chicago has on global architecture. The large volume of space fronting the Chicago River also creates an inviting and interactive atmosphere for visitors.”