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Welcome back! Choose from more than 50 reinstated walking tours, book a CAFC River Cruise and visit the Center Thursday through Monday.

Landmarks of American History and Culture workshops give K-12 educators a chance to intensively study and discuss important topics in American history and culture, supplemented by in-person experiences at significant historical and cultural sites. Over the course of a week, participants have ample opportunities to connect workshop content to what they teach, and to develop individual teaching or research materials.

Through the CAC Summer Scholars program, educators will investigate the skyscraper as a physical and cultural concept, with new themes every day. A combination of selected humanities readings, field studies and lively lectures by scholars will lead participants—and in turn, their students—to a deeper understanding of the role of tall buildings in the history of American urbanization.

program highlights

DAY 1: Skyscrapers and National Identity

What is a skyscraper? How is the urge to define the skyscraper, label the “first” skyscraper, and hold on to the notion of the lone designer antithetical to the true dynamic nature of invention?

Activities will include:

  • A 90-minute cruise along the Chicago River led by a CAC docent, who will share fascinating stories behind more than 50 buildings along the river
  • A group get-to-know-you dinner at a local pizza restaurant

DAY 2: Geography and Political Economy of Skyscrapers

What is the relationship between Chicago’s geography and its growth as a metropolis?

Activities will include:

  • Working in groups to create an historical timeline of the United States focusing on the development of skyscrapers and building technologies in context
  • Learning how to “read” a building using observation-based techniques

DAY 3: Skyscrapers in Context

In what ways did skyscrapers help define urban culture in the late 19th century? What did this new building type symbolize for the people of Chicago and the nation? How did skyscraper technology change American society?

Activities will include:

  • A walking tour of historic Chicago skyscrapers, including the Monadnock Building, Board of Trade, The Rookery and Sullivan Center
  • A neighborhood bus tour exploring nationally significant sites, including Haymarket Square, Jane Addams’ Hull House and the site of the Union Stockyards

DAY 4: Skyscrapers and Visual Representation

How were architects visually representing skyscrapers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries? How do such images inform and influence public opinion and the design of buildings to follow?

Activities will include:

  • A field study of the historic Tribune Tower and Wrigley Building
  • A visit to the Ryerson Burnham Library at the Art Institute of Chicago, where we will examine primary source materials created by several renowned Chicago architects

DAY 5: Skyscrapers and Identity

How does a city’s civic identity influence what buildings are kept, torn down and built? If buildings are not supposed to last forever, what lengths/costs are acceptable to “save” structures? How does the Chicago skyline reflect a narrative between preservationists and modernists?

Activities will include:

  • Presentations by preservation architects about the restoration of the Reliance Building (1895) and Federal Center (1958-74)
  • A field study of historically-preserved buildings in the Loop, to demonstrate classroom activities and lesson plans culled from the CAC’s Schoolyards to Skylines curriculum guide

DAY 6: Skyscrapers and New Landmarks

How does the tremendous growth of 19th century Chicago compare and contrast with growth of cities in 21st century Asia and the Middle East? In what ways is the appearance of skyscrapers defining urban culture and identity for Asian and Middle Eastern cities today?

Activities will include:

  • Tour the office of Goettsch Partners, an international firm well-known for its work in designing tall buildings in Chicago and throughout China
  • A discussion about current international design and technology trends in tall buildings

DAY 7: Curriculum Project Exchange

While in Chicago, participants will begin developing a curriculum project, while they have access to buildings, workshop leaders, scholars and new colleagues. They will complete lesson plans after they return home. Today’s wrap-up discussion will explore the power of place-based teaching. The day will conclude with final evaluations and details for completing and turning in final projects.


Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (program/workshop), do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.