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Recreating the buildings

To design and build the layout buildings, hundreds of photographs were taken of downtown Chicago as reference, so that buildings could be recreated with exact detail. More than 190 buildings were custom-made for the project, including HO-scale recreations of the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) and the Space Needle.


The material that gives the waterfalls their white color is the same material used for cobwebs in haunted houses.

To create the "water" in the bay outside of Seattle, three-step process was used. First a base layer was applied to create the foundation. Secondly, a layer of paper mache was applied, allowed to dry and then painted several shades of blue and green to create the appearance of depth. Finally, a top layer of resin was poured on top. As the resin dried, it was hand-sculpted to create waves.

Ways with water

Waterways realistically depicted in the layout include the Chicago River; the Calumet River; Lake Michigan; the Platte River; various mountain streams and lakes from Colorado, Montana and Idaho; and Seattle Harbor.

Distinctively Chicago

Exhibit designers researched commonly found Chicago architecture (bungalows, a Victorian cottage, 2- and 3-flats) to accurately create authentic models, going so far as to actually count the number of bricks on one building! Many of our guests who live in the city and surrounding areas will see "their" house in the exhibit.

The Red Line subway station at Chicago and State is recreated brick for brick, and is populated to reflect the individuals who were waiting for the train at 1:56 p.m. on April 3, 2002.