Docent Program


Rivera Docents  

Apply Now

What is a Docent?

Docents are volunteers who conduct tours and interpret the buildings in Chicago's downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. Our volunteers come from all walks of life, many with little or no previous formal education on the subject of architecture.

Becoming a Docent

The Chicago Architecture Foundation Docent Education Program incorporates interesting speakers, challenging readings, written research, and hands-on experiences to give you a solid background in Chicago architecture.

The weekly docent classes are held one full day per week. Beginning in January, there are 11 sessions usually conducted on Saturdays.  All trainees learn the Historic Downtown (south): Rise of the Skyscraper and Modern Skyscrapers tours.

Required Coursework

The Docent Education Program is comparable to a graduate-level introduction to the history of Chicago architecture. The homework assignments are geared towards each trainee developing his or her own tours. Homework outside of class consists of reading books and articles, observing buildings and writing building descriptions, and writing essays on specific topics.

The estimated time spent outside class on homework, reading, and on-street practice is about 25 hours per week. Each homework assignment will be read and commented on by a reader who is a current Chicago Architecture Foundation docent. 

Tour Practice

Extra time will be needed outside of the classroom for walking the route and practicing the tours. Each candidate will be assigned a sponsor from the start of the program. Sponsors are current docents who have volunteered to help mentor a trainee and help guide him or her through the learning process.  When the sponsor feels that a trainee is ready, a certifier will test the final tour presentation. Only upon certifier's approval is a trainee qualified to begin leading tours.

Commitment at the Course Completion

Each docent in training will be required to give 39 tour hours (the equivalent of 13 public tours) in the first year. These 13 tours will be divided evenly among the tours learned during the first year. The 13 tours must be completed by December 31, of the year the course is taken. Tours are scheduled based upon a trainee’s availability.There is a final observation requirement outside of regular touring that must be completed by the end of the first year as a docent.

After the first year, all docents are required to give 30 tour hours per year (the equivalent of 10 public tours). Trainees interested in becoming certified to do other tours offered by Chicago Architecture Foundation (River Cruise, Highlights by Bus, etc.) must initially complete the first-year requirements of training.


Active docents receive many nice perks with the job, including free Chicago Architecture Foundation membership and docent-only access to a monthly newsletter and website which keep docents informed about city and architecture-related happenings. Docents are a self-governing body and members are elected to the Docent Council. They may join numerous committees involving tour development, quality and recognition, and docent education. Many docents take advantage of our active continuing-education program including classes, lectures, and out-of-town trips.

Unfortunately, parking and travel expenses incurred by docents are not reimbursed.



Chicago Architecture Foundation, 224 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, 60604  |  312.922.3432  |   Privacy Policy  |   © Copyright 2012