Keeping the Past Alive: Contextualizing Tall in the Cityscape

Jennifer Schneider
Structural and Security Glazing Segment Manager
Trosifol, Wilmington

The Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) is viewed as the leader in architecture tour-making, drawing more than 450,000 tourtakers every year. At the heart of this work is a commitment to concise storytelling and a deep understanding of the advantages afforded by informal learning settings. Not surprising, two of the CAC’s most popular tours center on story of Chicago’s tall buildings, specifically Early Modern Skyscrapers and the Rise of Modernism. How we determine Chicago’s role in pioneering the design and development of early skyscrapers is a complex balancing act, at once mythologizing the city’s bravura and its vanguard designers, while also seeking to correct misinformation.

Part of what keeps the early tall buildings in a state of good repair and active use is the belief that they contain secrets from (and bear witness to) the city’s boom periods. This sense of larger cultural awareness is an essential pretext that gets people interested to further explore the city’s architecture. CAC teaches its guests how to “read a building,” an exercise which supports the most enduring facts about a building: how it stands up, why it is designed in the way it is; what functions it supports; what public message it delivers; the family of buildings to which it belongs; and points of debate.

In Chicago, the emerging master narrative has been so successful it has fueled several attempts to secure UNESCO status for the city’s LaSalle and Dearborn street corridors. More important, though, is that CAC tourtakers often transfer this learning and take a deeper look at their own communities and the stories their buildings are communicating.

Accompanying PowerPoint Presentation

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