10 Tips For Surviving Open House Chicago

Chicago’s premiere architecture event is just days away.  And whether you’re a veteran of the views, or a newbie with a Nikon, there are plenty of things to keep in mind when embarking on this weekend of binge-arching.

Recently we were asked for some pointers for getting the most out of Open House Chicago.  The smart thing to do is pick two or three places you want to see, then have a nice lunch and go home.  But we’re not smart, and each year spend the weekend careening around the city like a fifth-grader who traded his Ritalin for a sack of Gummy Bears.

Some of what follows is common sense.  But since sense isn’t all that common these days, much of it bears reiterating.

1. Wear very comfortable shoes, even if they’re ugly.

You’re not going to meet your soulmate waiting in line to tour the Old Post Office.  Nobody is going to look at your feet at the Goodman Theatre.  If the person you’re seeing the sights with shows up in heels, ditch ’em and don’t look back.

2. Dress like you will sweat the whole time, because you will sweat the whole time.

We’ve done OHC in sunshine, heat, cold, rain, fog, and everything else October has to offer.  The result is always the same: personal dampness.  But much like your ugly shoes, nobody cares.  It’s an architecture festival, not a beauty pageant. Feel free to glisten.

3. Be patient. 

Even if you have an extra-special OHC pass, you’ll skip one line but in a lot of places still have to wait in another, shorter, line.  Remember being at Soldier Field for that U2 concert?  Remember the lines for the bathrooms when that guy in the $2,000 sunglasses started moaning about how you should eat wilted lettuce and take cold showers in order to save the planet, while he flies on a private jet to Switzerland to hobnob with billionaires? It’s like those lines, but without the funk of hypocrisy in the air.

4. Be early. 

If a building opens to the public at 10am in The Loop, people will start lining up at 8am.  We’ve seen coping mechanisms good (hot coffee, positive attitudes), and bad (lawn chairs, bad breath).  This is where the sense of community is built, so if you can get the people in line to join you in a round of Hokey Pokey, you’ll find out that a little “You put your right foot in, you take your right foot out…” is contagious on a chilly October morning. 

5. The taller the building, the longer the line. 

Visit skyscrapers early.  Unless you don’t like crowds, in which case, enjoy having some of the neighborhood sites to yourself in the morning, and then skip The Loop entirely.

6. Take breaks. 

There are coffee shops everywhere in Chicago, but a stupid number of them aren’t open on weekends.  So if you see one, take advantage of it.  Remember, you can’t pee at most of the venues.

7. Public transportation is your friend. 

If you don’t already rock a Ventra card, at least get a one or three-day pass.  Use the ride hailing app of your choice if you want to go father than downtown.  Don’t even think about driving.  You’re not in Peoria anymore.

8. Be patient. 

Yes, this was also point number three, but it’s worth repeating.  There may be 15 people squeezed into the space where you want to stand to take the most legit duck-faced slowfie in history. But instead of taking a picture, take a deep breath and everything will be OK.  The competition will eventually get bored and wander away.

9. Bring lens wipes. 

You may not have ever even heard of lens wipes, but they’re a thing.  They’re like Kleenex for your camera lens, and you can rip one off the pad, safely wipe the grime of the city off of the glass, and move on with your life.  If you’re eco-friendly, there are cloth models, too.  You’ll be surprised how dirty your camera gets, even if all you’re using to take photos is a telephone.

10. Plan, plan, plan. 

Work out a map of the buildings you want to tour and then DOUBLE CHECK to see what the opening times are.  Some are only open Saturday or Sunday, but not both.  Especially holy places. Also, expect your plans to go right out the window when some locations don’t open on time. These venues are staffed by volunteers, and their bus gets stuck in the same traffic that yours does.

Bonus tip:  Get a friction stick for your feet! 

They look like tiny little sticks of deodorant, but protect your skin from the damage that will be inflicted by not only your shoes, but your socks.  You just rub them on your feet.  Works wonders, but can be hard to find.  Try Amazon if you don’t see them at the corner of Happy and Healthy.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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