All photos courtesy of Chicago Architecture Foundation.

By Ashley Alt

Recently celebrating its 50th anniversary, this high impact, low cost program of an award-winning organization is continuing to tell the story of the city that we love, showing new and old Chicagoans that there’s much more to architecture than just aesthetics.

For those not familiar, the Chicago Architecture Foundation is a nonprofit cultural organization comprised of tours, exhibitions, and events for anyone and everyone interested in the art of the city. With the mission to inspire individuals to discover why design matters, young people are awakened by their potential as they learn about the engineering and design that made the city what is is today.

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Demanding the highest standard in urban design, the CAF is not just about historical tours and unique sightings. It is grabbing the attention of locals and visitors in other ways by offering lunchtime talks and design dialogues to really open people up to see the value and appreciation that goes into all aspects of design.

Lynn Osmond, President and CEO of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, has been the innovative leader of the thriving nonprofit for 20 years, where she continues to advocate for great design and ideas through thought-provoking discussions. Providing education for youth and adults on the importance of design, Osmond has seen dramatic growth in audiences due to she and her team’s dedication to making a difference in the way architecture is seen.

“I think that I have the dream job in architecture,” Osmond told us. “It continues to grow and evolve because the city continues to grow and evolve. You can look at the same building 100 times and always see something new.”

Lynn Osmond.

Lynn Osmond.

Under her leadership, CAF has become one of Chicago’s 10 largest cultural organizations. She and her partners at Chicago’s First Lady Cruises have built and turned the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises into one of the top 10 tours in the United States.

“Architecture should be the most accessible form of art to anyone,” she said. “They just might not know it. The concept of design is about how it works with the community, how it makes the economies of a city work, and the civic pride that you feel.”

Osmond also initiated Open House Chicago, which immerses hundreds of thousands of people into the architecture and culture of Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods, and she championed the Chicago Model, which has become a teaching tool for docents and educators introducing Chicago’s architecture for the first time to school children.

Obtaining a Bachelor of Music, Osmond says that her background in symphony orchestra management really prepared her for CAF. Integrating her management and business skills (she is a Certified Association Executive of the Advanced Executive Program at the Kellogg School of Management) into the mission of CAF also helped. As a complex organization where she needs to keep her staff active and motivated, it isn’t hard to see the parallel.

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Since the CAF’s founding in 1966 which sought out to save the historic Glessner House, it has since then evolved to become recognized on a national scale. With 450 volunteers and educators sharing stories of the beauty, history and possibilities a part of the city’s architecture, millions of Chicagoans and visitors are able to view the city with a “new set of glasses,” as Osmond put it.

“A lot of people think that architecture isn’t in their backyard,” she remarked. “Our tour guides give you the important elements of the buildings and modules in the city, showing people that design truly is everywhere.”

Serving on many prominent boards in the city including Choose Chicago, the Magnificent Mile, the Central Area Committee, the Chicago Loop Alliance and the International Women’s Forum, it’s safe to say that Osmond knows the city she loves to call home better than the back of her hand. 

Osmond is beyond proud to lead the impressive organization further, hoping the CAF will continue to grow in order to teach as many folks as possible about “the city that is her museum.”

“We want to continue to expand our activities and attract strong audiences in Chicago to unleash the amazing possibilities that this beautiful city has to offer,” she said. “Every day is a chance to see something new and make it great.”