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As of March 20, 2018, the Chicago Model will be temporarily unavailable for viewing while it undergoes an exciting transformation that will be revealed this summer at the new Chicago Architecture Center.

When the Chicago Model is reintroduced at the Chicago Architecture Center, it will be a cinematic, interactive and digitally enhanced experience. The number of buildings will more than double, from 1,300 to 3,000, and about 200 new blocks will be added.

Since its debut in 2009, the Chicago Model has become an icon, beloved by tourists and locals alike. It has been a launching point for many of CAF’s 85 tours and more than 100,000 people visit it each year. It also plays a critical role in our youth education and adult programming, and has served as a centerpiece for many of our rotating exhibitions.

Constructing the World’s Largest 3D Chicago Model

The model is the physical manifestation of an idea by CAF President and CEO, Lynn Osmond. After visiting a model of the city of Shanghai, she was inspired to create a 3D view of Chicago’s Loop. However, there was a problem. When the project began, there wasn’t a digital map of downtown Chicago to reference.

Working closely with Columbian Model & Exhibit Works, Ltd., we began creating a digital map. Google Earth, Google Street View, Sanborn Map Company, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, various building owners and the Chicago Planning Department all played a crucial role in the design process.

With the digital map in hand, we partnered with Baxter International and DSM to 3D print all 1,300 buildings. In total, it took approximately 1,600 hours to print the entire model. The Railway Exchange building alone took 20 hours to fabricate.

We update the Chicago Model annually, removing demolished buildings and adding new city structures as needed. Since its construction, the model has had many famous visitors including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Mayor Richard M. Daley and architect Jeanne Gang.