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How does the Chicago Architecture Foundation select its Open House Chicago sites?

Program manager Garrett Karp explains how sites are selected for Open House Chicago

This weekend, the Chicago Architecture Foundation hosts its sixth annual Open House Chicago (OHC) weekend. The 48-hour free event offers local Chicagoans and visitors unprecedented access to 200 unique sites that would be otherwise closed to the public. While organizing the weekend is a full-time for job for OHC program manager Garrett Karp and program coordinator Eric Rogers, nearly all of CAF’s 60-person staff and in excess of 2,000 volunteers work hard to ensure the weekend is a success. We spoke with Karp—during what is presumably his busiest time of the year—for his insight into this weekend’s exciting program.

What makes a good site for Open House Chicago?

We look for any locations with cool interior spaces that visitors are curious about, aren’t typically open to the public, or that locals are completely unaware of right in their own neighborhoods. There usually needs to be some cool “behind-the-scenes” aspect that can’t be accessed any other day of the year. While most sites are architecturally significant, not all of them are. We also take history and cultural significance into account. Not everything is “high-brow” architecture—some of it is just for fun.

My goal is to make sure Open House Chicago has something for everyone. We intentionally feature a diverse variety of types and locations with an approximate North/South balance. We also feature neighborhoods and walkable clusters of sites, which makes navigating the event easier for visitors.

What are some of the common concerns you hear from participating sites?

A lot of places just have scheduling conflicts. We work with a lot of event spaces, clubs, hotels, and places that need to maintain a revenue stream for rentals so giving up their weekend and bringing in their staff for a free weekend event isn’t easy to commit to.

In addition to the Windy City’s significant buildings, OHC also features access to Chicago’s world class design companies. What can visitors expect to see at these sites?

Most of the architecture/design firms in Chicago are in historic or architecturally significant buildings themselves—and they’ve renovated the interiors of their spaces, so that’s interesting to see. But most of them have models and renderings of current and upcoming projects on display, which is always exciting. It’s like a sneak peek into the future.

An increasing number of brand new luxury apartment towers have been featured each year. Would it be fair to say that the owners of these new buildings are embracing OHC as a showcase for their properties?

It depends on the owner/management. Obviously high-rise residential buildings are a large percentage of the new development happening in Chicago right now, and rooftop amenity spaces are the trendy thing—which is fantastic because they make for great OHC sites. Some of the management companies (or even architects) behind these buildings are very excited about the type of visibility OHC provides so they’ll sign up multiple properties. Other organizations haven’t jumped on board quite yet. As the reputation of OHC and CAF grows we’ve been able to sign up more high-profile locations.

OHC added a number of new sites to its lineup this year that past participants may not be familiar with. Please tell us about a few of them.

Almost 40% of the locations this year are new and have never been featured in OHC before (just in case visitors didn’t make it to all 200 sites last year). One of my favorites is the Yale Building in Englewood, a historic apartment building on the cover of all of our promotional materials and the Open House Chicago website last year. Colvin House in Edgewater has been a curiosity of many locals for a long time and will be very busy during Open House Chicago. Speaking of new apartment high-rises: MILA, Marquee at Block 37, Xavier, NEXT, Optima, 1001 S. State, Moment, and Vantage Oak Park are all worth a visit if you like cool rooftop views.