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The Chicago Architectural Biennial: It’s that…massive…public…event? OK, we’ll admit it: Before we did our research, we just knew that it was big. Running until January 3, it will offer lots of exhibitions. There will also be multiple public programs and something called "lakefront kiosks.” And indeed, that will all go down. But we have a secret: You really only need to know one thing about the biennial.

And it’s this: You must tour the Stony Island Arts Bank. 

We’re going to assume you’ve seen the Tiffany dome at the Chicago Cultural Center and spent days lazing about in Millennium Park. But Stony Island is hiding an architectural marvel that will be open for tours during the exhibition (and we don’t use “marvel” lightly). The newly refurbished building was formerly a 1920s bank. (You may be able to tell, seeing that it has art-deco details and a giant vault.) Now it houses the most jaw-dropping library we’ve seen since drooling over Belle’s in Beauty and the Beast. It has thousands of tomes devoted to architecture, art and black history; it also boasts a collection of DJ Frankie Knuckles’s house music on vinyl.

Moving forward, the venue will host contemporary art exhibitions and artist and scholar residencies. But for now, a tour is the way to crack the spine on the whole Biennial thing.

Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave.; 312-857-5561. Find more info on the Chicago Architectural Biennial tours here.

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