Step into the Open House Movement

You’ve probably heard of the tiny house movement. Do you know about the Open House movement? Open House (sometimes called Doors Open) events occur annually in some of our country’s largest cities. They offer a look into the area’s most historic and iconic buildings. Based on my experience at several Open House Chicago weekends, I highly recommend planning a visit around one of these events.

With the opportunity to visit dozens, or even hundreds, of buildings, city-wide Open House events provide hands-on experiences to learn about architecture, a discipline that relies on math, engineering, and technology to create safe structures. But these events provide so much more.

In Chicago, some architecture firms open their offices and provide overviews of the design process and what it takes to build a safe skyscraper. Other sites invite the public in to observe dramatic views that are normally inaccessible to the masses.

These events are pretty STEAM-y, too. As math- and engineering-heavy as architecture is, it has a strong aesthetic component. Art and design play important roles in creating the built world. For example, architect Frank Lloyd Wright was a leader in the Prairie School style, popular in the late 19th century, which called to mind the flat open lands of the Midwest. A few decades later, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe sought to use 20th century construction supplies to create modern buildings with clean lines and minimalist looks.  

Clearly, architects are inspired by the times in which they live. But it’s not just a matter of them tapping into the pop culture of their era. The available technology is key. What would Mies have created if he had access to LEDs, self-healing concrete, or other 21st century construction materials? What’s can today’s architects build and what will be possible for tomorrow’s?

Open House events may be organized along interests, like sustainability. This includes sites like The Plant, a long-abandoned meat processing plant that’s now home to an outdoor urban farm, an indoor aquaponic farm, and a huge anaerobic digester in addition to several burgeoning food businesses, all collaborating as part of a “closed loop” system. This means, for example, that fish waste from the aquaponic farm will* get fed into the anaerobic digester which creates fertilizer that, in turn, can feed algae. The algae can become food for the fish in the aquaponic farm.

Many of the businesses at The Plant are part of a larger web, as well. So, the commercial kitchens and brewery create waste that will also feed into the giant digester. Some of the fertilizer the digester produces will be sold to soil blenders and some of the fish will be sent to markets in an area that’s a food desert. The Plant provides a study in agriculture, aquaculture, ecology, food science, and the economy all on one site! (And, of course, the site itself is an historic nod to Chicago’s history as hog butcher to the world).

Are you ready for an eye-opening trip to Chicago? Maybe there’s a program closer to your home. Here’s a list of similar program from around the United States:

And, of course, cities across the United States and around the world have architectural tours, so if you want to learn about architecture and everything it encompasses, you can book one. Go, learn, and be inspired!

*Future tense because the digester is still a work in progress