Reflections on OHNY

It feels like years ago that I was struggling to find my way in Chicago. I was leading architecture tours for the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) and writing weekly posts for my architecture blog between my work in an art gallery, nannying, and leading food tours of all things. My dream of making a living through sharing my excitement about architecture with the public, felt completely ridiculous at the time. Had I sat down and written myself the job description of my dreams, I would have still come up short of the opportunity I was soon presented with by CAF: to coordinate and eventually manage Open House Chicago (OHC), the biggest and best architecture festival in the city.

For one weekend each year, we provided the public with behind-the-scenes access to 150 great places and spaces across Chicago, for free. Suddenly I was in the awesome position of giving tens of thousands of people a set of keys to the city one time every year. Most of the weekend I’d be stuck inside answering calls and orchestrating our 1200 volunteers, but I did always get a few minutes to step outside and see swarms of people equipped with their OHC event guides, dashing to and from participating sites. After each event I’d spend hours reading visitor tweets and sorting through photographs of the weekend on instagram and flickr — seeing OHC and Chicago through the eyes of others.

The program has only grown in popularity and success since I left it to attend graduate school in Providence, RI last year. Luckily there are Open House festivals, and similar events under the Doors Open brand, throughout the world. Recently, I finally had the chance to attend Open House New York (OHNY). The OHNY team was integral in helping us develop the OHC program. We looked to them as the model for everything from how to recruit sites to manage volunteers. Despite this, I never got the chance to attend OHNY in person because it always took place on the weekend preceding OHC. So I was understandably giddy as I finally made my way last weekend to the far ends of New York City, exploring its greatest architectural treasures, while proudly wearing an OHNY pin.

I dragged my mother, who was kind enough to join my adventure, between Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens checking out the architectural wonders of NYC. If I had to pick, stepping inside Eero Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center was probably the highlight of my weekend. This landmark of modernism had been closed for fourteen years, re-opening to the public for OHNY. We traveled two hours to JFK airport — a grueling trip through the NYC subway, forever under construction. My guess was that only a handful of OHNY visitors would embark on such a journey. I was completely wrong. Thousands of people filled the building, and we were all bursting with excitement to be there. It was thrilling to see so many people so genuinely excited about architecture.

My hat goes off to you OHNY. You continue to be the role model you’ve always been. I can’t wait to see what next year brings.