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At Chicago Architecture Center, we’re as great as the sum of our parts, and we’d like to introduce you to the people who are making wonderful things happen here. Meet Gabrielle Lyon, CAC’s Vice President of Education and Experiences.

1.Why does design matter?

An awareness of design makes us better observers. When we understand that design reflects choices, decisions and what the person who made those decisions thinks is important, we literally start to "see" differently. I think of design as a kind of “hidden curriculum.” Design choices tell you what is important—sometimes even how to act, where to go. Design can have unintended consequences too. If you’re the person who is engaged in thinking about the design you want—and why you’re making decisions—it’s an incredibly personal and powerful experience. 

2. What is your favorite Chicago building or place and why?

I love the Garfield Park Conservatory—before I came to work at CAC, it inspired me to learn more about landscape design and the work of Jens Jensen. I founded and ran a science education organization called Project Exploration, and I always loved bringing students and teachers to the fern room, to have them imagine a prehistoric world before grasses and fruits.

Best of all, I love the way the Conservatory’s rooms lead you one by one into an adventure through space, time and ecosystems. It's a great example of how design can really make a difference in how you experience the built environment.

3. How do you explain to your parents what you do?

I tell them I’m trying to help young people understand their city, and that I’m creating new experiences like camps and fellowship programs for kids that otherwise might never have the chance to come downtown or learn about architecture and design. I also tell them that I work with a great team and that I do a lot of planning!

4. If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would that person be?

Jane Addams, and anyone she’d like to invite! Addams created a center of gravity for thinkers, doers and social change activists. I'm fascinated by the community that developed around Hull House. She was a powerhouse activist, writer, pacifist, organizer, educator and philanthropist. And she was able to bring a cross-sector commitment to making Chicago a thriving, beautiful, livable city for all of its citizens—all of those are things I aspire to. She's my hero.

5. What are five things you can’t live without?

  1. My kids, Ava (11) and Arlo (5)
  2. Baking
  3. The desert
  4. The radio
  5. Being curious

6. What’s your favorite CAC experience?

One of my first experiences with teens at CAC really stands out. We were launching the Teen Fellows program and on the first day, we gave them a bunch of Kapla blocks and said “Pair up and go build something.” After a little while, we asked them to talk about their structures. Then we said “OK, what’s the difference between what you’ve built and a city?” The rich conversation that unfolded really showed me that kids are born planners—they already have a critique of what works and how a city should be. In about 30 minutes, those teens had completely integrated their structures into a new kind of city that I would have loved to live in. 

I also loved sitting in on docent training sessions. The knowledge and passion of our docents is humbling and inspiring. It’s like there’s a mini-university at the heart of CAC.