This summer, the Chicago River welcomes a new resident: the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s much-anticipated new home, the Chicago Architecture Center (CAC), opening August 31. 

It’s only fitting that the CAC will be housed in One Illinois Center (111 E Wacker Dr) — a building designed by Modernist genius Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Occupying 20,000 square feet and located above the dock for the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise Aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises (the city’s #1 tour, according to TripAdvisor users), the CAC will become a hub and gateway for discovering everything architecture in Chicago, through docent-led tours, exciting programs and imaginative, interactive exhibits. 


“Architecturally, the building is a gem,” says Gordon Gill, founding partner of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, the firm selected to design the interior of the CAC (the team also designed The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare Company, Navy Pier). “The design will create a dynamic and elegant space for CAF that promotes patrons to fully engage in the influence Chicago has on global architecture. The large volume of space fronting the Chicago River also creates an inviting and interactive atmosphere for visitors.”

One of the CAC’s premier exhibits is located in the Skyscraper Gallery on the second floor, in a dramatic space with 40-foot windows overlooking the Chicago River and the Michigan Avenue Bridge. The exhibit, Building Tall, will be filled with supersized scale models of famous skyscrapers from Chicago and around the world, including a nearly 40-foot model of Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah Tower, which will be the world’s tallest building when construction is completed in 2020.

On the first floor, the Chicago Gallery will explore Chicago’s position at the epicenter of modern architecture. The centerpiece of the gallery is the ever-popular Chicago Model Experience, now expanded from 1,300 to 3,000 buildings. A film and interactive light show illuminate the Model to explain Chicago’s early growth and rebirth after the Great Chicago Fire. The gallery also highlights the city’s most notable architects, its diverse neighborhoods, its unique residential architecture and its innovative current and future projects.  

Other unmissable features include a custom-designed lecture hall and a design studio that offers hands-on architecture experiences for students and families.


“The Chicago Architecture Center is an exciting new endeavor for the Foundation and the city,” says Lynn Osmond, CAF’s president and CEO. “For more than 50 years, our board of trustees, docents, volunteers, donors and members have been unstinting supporters of CAF. We are all looking forward to providing Chicagoans and visitors with a forum to debate the future of urban areas and learn more about the city that invented the skyscraper.”

The new Center builds upon the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s mission to inspire people to discover why design matters. Rather than viewing architecture and urban design from the periphery, the Center will be a catalyst to inspire people to actively participate in the building of vibrant communities, and to demand ever-higher standards in urban design. 

About the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise Aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises

Chicago's First Lady

It’s not hard to understand why this is the top tour in Chicago. Guests soak in the city's architectural beauty from the decks of a river cruiser as it travels along the Chicago River. They learn about more than 50 buildings and their significance to Chicago’s architectural landscape, as well as how Chicago grew from a small back-country outpost to one of the world's most important crossroads. Tours run from late April through mid-November and last about 1.5 hours. Plan to purchase tickets in advance as they often sell out.