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Northwestern opens its doors during architectural festival

Alice Millar Chapel
Alice Millar Chapel
Deering Library
Deering Library
Dearborn
Dearborn Observatory

Alice Millar Chapel, resplendent with stained glass windows that bathe its sanctuary in ever-changing light, will be among Northwestern University’s architectural gems drawing visitors to Evanston this weekend, Oct. 15 and 16, for Open House Chicago.

Presented by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Open House Chicago is a free public festival of tours of more than 200 buildings in and around Chicago.

The festival also includes Northwestern’s Dearborn Observatory – with its crowd-pleasing telescope of yore that is still in use – as well as the collegiate Gothic-style Deering Library.

During the 2015 festival, about 4,600 people visited participating sites throughout Evanston. Alice Millar Chapel received 1,543 visits last year, making it one of the top 15 most-visited buildings in all the participating neighborhoods outside downtown Chicago.

“Northwestern has some amazing architecture, and we feel this is a great opportunity for visitors from the Chicagoland area and Evanston community to come see our great buildings,” said Alan Anderson, executive director of neighborhood and community relations at Northwestern. “This event is a great way to learn about history and architecture, not only about these facilities, but also about Northwestern and Evanston.”

Other Evanston sites participating in Open House Chicago this year include the Evanston History Center, FEW Spirits distillery and a number of significant homes and churches.

Northwestern buildings descriptions and hours

Alice Millar Chapel
1870 Sheridan Road
Closed Saturday, Oct. 15
Open Sunday, Oct. 16, from 1 to 5 p.m.
(Photography permitted, wheelchair accessible) 

Built just over 50 years ago, Alice Millar Chapel is relatively young. Its design marries a simplified Neo-Gothic form with stained glass that is unabashedly Modern. The 700-seat sanctuary has little ornament to distract from the bold, colorful, abstract stained-glass windows that flood the sanctuary with an ever-changing light. The entire chancel wall is covered, floor to ceiling, in this glass—a most unusual backdrop that highlights the uniqueness of the space. The windows are the work of Belgian-born designer Benoit Gilsoul. They were fabricated by the noted Willet Studios of Philadelphia. Vail Chapel is a smaller space linked by a colonnade to the east. It is a much more traditional sanctuary with intricate representational stained glass.


Dearborn Observatory
2131 Tech Drive
Open Saturday, Oct. 15, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Open Sunday, Oct. 16, from 1 to 4 p.m.
(Family friendly, photography permitted, long lines)

In 1889, this observatory was completed to hold what was at one time the world’s largest telescope. This original 18.5-inch telescope is still in use. In 1997, the old handcrank-operated dome was replaced with the current shiny aluminum cover with electric motor operation. In order to minimize vibrations, the core pillar on which the telescope stands is structurally isolated from the rest of the heavy stone structure below. The entire building was laboriously moved several hundred feet over a three-month period in 1939 to make way for a campus construction project.


Deering Library
1937 Sheridan Road
Open Saturday, Oct. 15, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Open Sunday, Oct. 16, from 1 to 4 p.m.
(Family friendly, photography permitted, wheelchair accessible)

On the edge of the great lawn at the heart of Northwestern's campus rises a monumental building by the master of Collegiate Gothic architecture. Its construction was funded by the Deering and McCormick families, who founded International Harvester. The library's mass and four short corner towers allegedly prompted Frank Lloyd Wright to disparage it as "a pig on its back." But you may disagree as you ascend the stairs from the heavy stone-and-timber entry corridor to discover a stunning reading room. Enormous arched leaded-glass windows flood the double-height space with light. The windows illuminate the intricately timbered ceiling and elaborate details in carved stone and wood throughout. 

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