Mention architecture and our minds instinctively think of modern master builders: Sullivan, Wright, Kahn, Gehry, van der Rohe, Piano. But architecture encompasses several allied fields– engineering, design, landscape gardening– and millions of architecture fans, like myself.
Just over 40 years ago, there was no Chicago Architecture Foundation. It was founded in 1966 to save the Glessner House on Prairie Avenue from demolition. It won that battle and stayed around to fight other battles. It is now a thriving organization, boasting a budget last year of $11 million and nearly half-a-million participants in its programs, from walking tours (led by 450 trained docents), the Chicago Model City exhibit at the ArchiCenter, 224 S. Michigan Avenue, noonday lectures and a highly popular riverboat tour. Its programs help tell the story of Chicago through its buildings.
Like Burnham, Lynn Osmond makes no little plans. President and CEO at CAF since 1996, she has added a new title, chair of the Association of Architectural Organizations, a new international group, which aims to foster collaboration amongst its members and raise public awareness in other cities to the often overlooked architectural riches in their midst. Every building has a tale connected to that city’s history.
AAO consists of 30 members representing 3,100 architecture centers, heritage properties, architectural educators, university programs and individuals. It grew out of the Architecture + Design Network (A+DEN) meeting last November.
Greater public interest in issues such as sustainability, climate change and architectural heritage have fueled a boom in architecture centers here and abroad. AAO intends to offer consulting services to assist emerging architecture centers elsewhere, using CAF’s model and other best practices. It will sponsor conferences and workshops on design issues and offer online resources.
All AAO members are facing pressure, as Michael Wood, AAO’s newly-named executive director, to stretch their dollars. Members are exploring optimal convergence strategies: sharing ideas as well as exhibitions, lobbying municipal leaders for increased funding and building a strong constituency for architectural preservation.
“Over time, our top priority is developing more strategic partnerships,” says Osmond. “Architecture centers are only as strong as their Rolodex of partnering organizations,” adds Wood. Wood also cites the key role of educating youth to design principles. “We believe talented design educators are essential to AAO and our aims are deeply allied.”
Osmond states the board is now exploring ways to implement these ambitious plans and will present their recommendations to the AAO membership at its convention in Chicago November 15 and 16.