In late 2017, longtime CAF docent Barry Sears generously pledged to fund the docent and volunteer library at the new Chicago Architecture Center.
Barry was first introduced to the Chicago Architecture Foundation in the 1970s, when CAF was searching for descendants of Prairie Avenue, in today’s South Loop. Barry’s grandfather had lived on the street and he was happy to share his family’s history with CAF. Barry’s interest in architecture led him to join the CAF Auxiliary Board. In 1992, Barry took the plunge and became a docent. Barry loved sharing Chicago’s story with visitors and exploring architecture in other cities on CAF member trips. He went on several CAF trips to New York City before leading CAF’s first international tour to London. The tour was such a success he was named CAF’s special tours consultant. For about 20 years, Barry planned and led CAF tours outside Chicago. Now he’s back to walking tours in Chicago, but his many years of service and dedication to educating others about architecture earned him an Honorary AIA membership in 2011.
About 10 years ago, Barry worked with two other friends from the Auxiliary Board to create the docent and volunteer library. The room is cozy with warm lighting and walls lined with white closet shelves that were creatively used to store hundreds of books. There are cabinets filled with documents and newspaper clippings about each building featured on CAF’s tours, as well as computers for research. The space is also used as an interview space for potential docents. We spoke to Barry recently to hear why funding the docent and volunteer library again is so important to him.
What excites you most about the new Chicago Architecture Center?
It’s a modern building, which is the way we want to be. It’s on the river, opposite of the terrific Apple store. And it’s going to be great for boat docents. That’s undoubtedly our most popular tour—the boat tour—and it’s right there, so that’s good.
Why has funding the docent and volunteer library been important to you?
Docents and VEVs (visitor experience volunteers) really treasure it. As a docent, you get asked questions on tours that you may not know the answer to, but a lot of docents are very interested in answering some of these questions, whether or not they actually get back in touch with the person. They feel, ‘I ought to know that. I should know it for my next tour.’ The more experience you have, the more background stuff you know. A lot of that knowledge can come from looking through this library.
Why do you think it’s important to invest in CAF and the new Center?
At a docent meeting last fall, when the chairman announced that somebody had pledged the new library, everybody clapped. It was a big deal that ‘Wow, we’ve got our library again.’ It makes everyone feel more professional. You like to give to organizations that mean a lot to you. It’s such an upbeat organization. Everybody here seems to be upbeat about what they’re doing. You’re so involved in influencing visitors who are coming to the city and you feel like an ambassador. You walk away after a tour and feel like you’re on top of the world, really.