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Chicago’s Loop is an inflection point, emerging from the pandemic on shaky footing but also with abundant opportunity to transition to something more vibrant, resilient, and livable. Loop as Lab: Reshaping Downtowns holds our central business district up to the light, exploring ways to keep our economic engine humming while diversifying uses and making the Loop more welcoming for everyone.

The exhibition frames Chicago’s Loop as a “lab” for examining the shared challenges American downtowns face today. It prompts visitors’ reflection on their own experiences and aspirations and ventures design and policy solutions for reshaping downtowns and our relationship to them. The show espouses the belief that Chicagoans can continue to meet our challenges with vision and resolve, while also drawing inspiration from more than a century of central area planning and a modern-day exchange of ideas with peer cities.

Loop as Lab: Reshaping Downtowns, presents a range of projects, initiatives, and provocative design ideas centered around four themes:

  • RESIDE: Where and why are people living downtown?
  • RENEW: Can we repurpose existing buildings for long-term public or private gain?
  • RECONNECT: Can city dwellers safely and comfortably traverse downtown, and access its amenities and services?
  • REWILD: How are we incorporating green spaces and accommodating nature?

Each theme is developed through a look at case study plans/projects by leading designers, architects, and developers. In addition, a corresponding set of “architectural follies-in-the-round” at the heart of the gallery offers interactive entrypoints for visitors, inviting engagement with the themes and ideas in unique ways. Further personalizing the content, vignettes of “downtown denizens” (e.g. residents, shop owners, cyclists, students) feature their individual experiences and hopes for the downtown area.

To further drive home the importance of participatory design and planning, the exhibit features various public engagement strategies and activities, including interactive elements like an entryway video produced by local podcasters, 77 Flavors of Chicago, and a “ballot box” where visitors can write and submit feedback on downtown design issues.

Upcoming exhibition events 

Thursday, April 25: Exhibition Opening Program 

Attendees will get an introduction to the exhibition from the designers and a panel discussion with subject experts and exhibition participants before joining the curators for walk and talks in the space. 


Friday, April 26: Exclusive member only day

Members can get an early look at the new exhibition from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Saturday, April 27: Exhibition family feature 

From 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. The Center will have free admission while hosting Park Rangers from Pullman National Historic Park. Kids will have the chance to earn their Park Ranger badges and take home a seed starting kit. Designed for ages 8-12, this is the perfect opportunity to get a first look at the new exhibition with some family fun!