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85 Architectural Tours in a Single Year

Jennifer Lucente is a busy woman. Her job as a new media manager for the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) is enviable, but demanding, and she logs long hours at the Foundation’s headquarters in downtown Chicago. On top of that, she maintains an eventful social calendar, and she can often be found at various art openings, industry events, and parties throughout the city.

Jennifer is certainly busy. But she’s also incredibly passionate about the art and architecture of our fair city, and she decided early last year that she’d like to learn a little more about the architectural history of Chicago. And she figured that the best way to go about doing that would be to take each and every one of the 85 architecture tours offered by the CAF. The task certainly wasn’t an easy one, but Jennifer was up to it, and she managed to make it through each of the 85 tours within the span of a single year!

The Chicago Arts Archive sat down with Jennifer after shortly after she finished her year-long architectural odyssey to ask her a little about her experience:

Jennifer taking a tour of downtown Chicago. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Lucente.

When did you go on your first Chicago Architecture tour? Was it before or after you decided to attend all 85 tours?

I took my first Chicago Architecture Foundation architecture tour—the Architecture River Cruise—about 10 years ago, which was WAY before I decided to take all 85 tours. Like many Chicagoans, taking the CAF Architecture River Cruise became a summer tradition.
What made you decide to spend a year attending each and every tour offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation?

The overall reason I did the Around Chicago in 85 Tours challenge was to increase the awareness of the Chicago Architecture Foundation. To show people that we are a fun organization to be involved with no matter if you are a local or a tourist, a architecture professional or novice. And especially for locals, I wanted to show that it’s ok to do “touristy” things. I grew up in the area, my entire family is from Chicago, I’ve lived in the city for years…and I am taking these tours. I wanted to show people that there is no shame being a tourist in your own city.
Were your friends, relatives, and colleagues supportive of the idea?

Absolutely. Everyone was very supportive.
When did you begin your whirlwind tour?

I began the Around Chicago in 85 Tours challenge in January, 2010.
Did you ever doubt that you would be able to get to all of the tours in time?

No, not at all. I may have gotten a bit overwhelmed at times—especially when I got to the 60’s—but I never doubted that I would make it through. I had a lot of people cheering me on.

Jennifer attends her last tour. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Lucente.

Does one tour stand out as your favorite?

Tough question. One? No. There have been many: Elevated Architecture, Highlights by Bus, Downtown Deco, Pilsen by Bus, Bike the Lakefront, Wicker Park, Gold Coast, Bungalows by Bus, Farnsworth…I really could go on and on. If I could I would list every tour that I took. They were all favorites in their own ways.
Does one building stand out as your favorite?

That’s a tough question, too. The challenge introduced me to so much fascinating Chicago architecture I really can’t name just one building. But if I could name a few, I would say the Rookery, Fine Arts Building, Chicago Board of Trade and the Sullivan Center…but then there are also amazing neighborhoods that have fantastic architecture as a whole: Beverly, Alta Vista, Kenwood, West Jackson…again, I could go on and on.
What was the worst thing about going on every Chicago Architecture tour offered in a single year?

Scheduling all of the tours. CAF offers tours year-round however we do not offer all 85 tours year round. Some are several times a month, some several times a year and some are only once a year so to hit all 85 I had to plan out my schedule for all of 2010 in the beginning of the year.

 

Jennifer taking another tour. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Lucente.

What was the best thing?

I can’t name just one…so…some of the best things about doing the challenge: I really got to know my city and can really appreciate its past; I got to know a lot of docents, they are an amazing group of people and I’d like to think that I made more people aware of how fantastic they are; and, I really got to connect with the CAF audience through the challenge, they are another incredible group of people.
Would you encourage others to do the same thing?

Sure, why not? But more realistically, I would encourage everyone to take a few tours this year. You may think that you don’t have time, but remember, the Around Chicago in 85 Tours challenge was not my job in 2010. I actually had a “real” full-time job at CAF the entire time I did the challenge. So if I can take 85 tours in one year, while still having a job and a life, I know that everyone can take at least a few themselves.
What sort of person would you encourage to go on an architectural tour?

I would encourage anyone to go on an architecture tour. Architecture is the one form of art that is very much a part of every aspect of our lives.

Jennifer takes a tour of Wicker Park. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Lucente.

Is there anything else you want to add?

I would just like to invite people to check out all of our tours at www.architecture.org. And while they are there they can see all of the other cool stuff we’re doing—programs, family events, high school education, the Shop.

 

For more information about Jennifer’s architectural journey, check out her blog here!