As the new Senior Advisor on Programs and Industry Collaboration at the Chicago Architecture Foundation,
With the Biennial and big projects opening this year, this seems like a big moment for Chicago design and architecture. How do you see the position influencing the city's profile or bringing different groups together?
There is an extraordinary moment in Chicago right now with the Obama Library and so many projects going forward and the economy improving. Chicago is getting a light shined on it. I think the CAF has a unique opportunity to put itself in the middle, to be a convener if you will, provide a forum through which many of these conversations can take place, whether it's a debate or forum or lecture series. With the breadth of its audience—more than half a million people taking part in its programming each year—it has a unique position nationwide. Given it's history and the renown with which it's regarded, it has a great opportunity to engage.
What are the unique opportunities Chicago is presented with now, and potential areas of focus for what you're doing?
We're working on a lot of programming. Let's look at something that everyone knows about, the Biennial. The Architecture Foundation will be actively engaged, and in a couple of weeks, we'll have an interesting announcement. It's going to be a robust engagement, and it'll bring a couple hundred thousand more people to Chicago. What better opportunity could CAF have?
It's great that the Biennial is doing projects such as the Lakefront Kiosks that go beyond the skyscraper. How important is it to you to expand the perception of Chicago?
You're right, Chicago is very central in the development of the modern skyscraper, and that's exciting, and of course, it has that skyline that truly extraordinary, second to New York for the sheer power, in terms of the visual character of the city. But between those tall buildings is the life of the city. Those beautiful tall buildings are part of the fabric of the city, but it's those streets, those remarkable streets, that have had such an effect over the year, whether it's city planning in the eye of Daniel Burnham, which created the City Beautiful movement in this country, or whether it's moves, such as the later Batman movies, or whether it's the Chicago urban character; to walk through a neighborhood, stop in a neighborhood dive bar and walk right door and have one of the best meals in the country and be within walking distance of one of the world's greatest orchestras. Everywhere you turn, you have visual and physical evidence of tremendous thought on urbanism. You only get this in a few cities in the Untied States. The Architecture Foundation has vigorous conversations in its future about how we'll continue to develop this great metropolis.
Not to say Chicago's doing anything wrong, but what cities and organizations are doing things right in your view?
Another one that has a great impact, and that Lynn Osmond, the mastermind at CAF, has a great respect for, is the Municipal Art Society in New York. I don't know how long they've been around. For a very, very long time, they've engaged the city of New York head on, over a large number of issues, and had a great amount of impact. Have they been successful in everything they've done? No. Have they had great impact? Of course they have. And I know that Lynn believes the CAF can have that same kind of influence through dialogue in the city of Chicago.
So advocating for preservation and development of certain projects, and more of an advocacy role?
Yes. MAS comes into tremendous national focus, of course, as a proponent of the preservation world, with their vigorous defenses of Grand Central and Penn Station. Every city, and particularly Chicago, has an exceptional building stock. There isn't a city that can rival Chicago for the profound influence it's had. Chicago really has incubated more of the most important architecture movements and architecture firms and planning movements and planning firms of the 20th century. We just crept into the 21st century, so it's going to be fascinating to see what influence we have, and I think Lynn wants to make sure we're continuing to have that influence.
I keep hearing that Chicago needs to compete to be an international city. What are some of the things Chicago needs to do in terms of urban planning, architecture and design to stay competitive?
It's great to have that question raised now, it points to a fascinating issue we're all looking at, the re-rise of cities as the driving forces of development in the economy. Thirty or forty years ago, we thought cities were in decline. Cities have moved to the center of the conversation due to all of their cultural, economic and physical resources. When you ask how Chicago needs to move forward, I would posit, if Chicago isn't lazy and doesn't rest on its laurels, it's got so much in place that any other city will have to scramble to achieve – it's already a banking, retail, communications, manufacturing and transportation center.
Since you used to be a critic and writer yourself, what would help elevate and improve the state of architectural and urban policy criticism and the general discussion of those topics?
This is where the CAF can make a big contribution. It's about keeping it accessible to the general public. What's really missing is the ability to talk to the general public. Chicago is lucky that it still has an architecture critic full time, and a good one. Whatever the mechanism is, the CAF can get people engaged, and understand the importance of architecture, design, urban planning and landscape architecture.
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