Need a Chicago skyline-shaped desk organizer for your paperclips? How about Frank Lloyd Wright’s famed Fallingwater house, faithfully recreated in a Lego set?
We dare you to visit the Chicago Architecture Foundation shop and not fall instantly in love with nearly every item in sight. Step into this vast, brightly lit shop from the entrance on Michigan Avenue, just across from Millennium Park in the heart of the Loop. The crisp white displays make it feel like the gold standard of a curated living museum gift shop — the museum being the entire city of Chicago.
The impeccably laid-out shop sells thousands of beautifully designed items embodying the very best of form and function, from historical Chicago refrigerator magnets to antique bronze Tiffany-style table lamps. You’ll find stuff you never knew you wanted — like a bracelet cuff with an etched map of the “L” lines in the Loop, or an artistic map. Browse your way past the grand red pillars to the chic and funky apparel or jewelry sections. Want to nurture any budding young designers or architects? Slowly browse through the countless shelves of interactive games, books, and toys. Be sure to check out the amazing Lego section; the product team from Lego partnered with the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) in 2013 to sell its Architecture Studio Set, a 1,200-piece model with a 272-page guidebook to start your teen on her or his lifelong career in building design and engineering.
House-proud shoppers will want to head straight to the homewares section, filled with unique but practical items. Stock up before your next dinner party, and one of your guests is guaranteed to exclaim, “No way! Where’d you get that awesome guitar-shaped pizza cutter/robot ice cube tray/infinite loop metal fruit bowl?!”
Plus, you can feel good about supporting the city: A full 30 percent of the items sold have been designed by Chicagoan individuals or companies, and every item sold benefits the Chicago Architecture Foundation.
Before you leave the shop, be sure to continue deeper into the historic Santa Fe building. Also known as the Railway Exchange building for when it housed many of the city’s famous railway headquarters, the 1904 Beaux-Arts building is a great example of the Chicago school of architecture.
Step into the Atrium Gallery from the shop and you’ll see why the CAF chose this building as its headquarters. The gallery’s echoing lobby not only houses a grand staircase and glass dome ceiling, but also the CAF’s 320-square-foot model replica of downtown Chicago. The Chicago Model is updated every year: 2015 alone will bring 20 new buildings. The lobby is also the meeting point to many of the CAF’s 85 walking, biking, bus, Segway, and “L” train tours, and you can pick up tickets to the CAF’s famous river cruise here, too. Taking a tour is always a fun way to support the foundation while learning about your community (whether you’re a Chicagoan for life, a weekend, or anywhere in between).