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What to expect from the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial

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No less than 141 participants are expected to ‘Make New History’ at September’s exposition

Biennial Artistic Directors Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee provided a curatorial presentation this morning, describing some of the themes and exhibits planned for the season-long exposition.
Jay Koziarz
Chicago Architecture Biennial

The Chicago Architecture Biennial, a season-long exposition that celebrates the work of architects from around the world, continues to prepare for its return to the Windy City later this year. Today, organizers provided a sneak peek at some of the exhibits visitors can look forward to experiencing. Biennial Artistic Directors Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee of LA-based architecture firm Johnston Marklee were on-hand to narrate a curatorial presentation of some of the installations that will once again transform the Chicago Cultural Center.

Building off the momentum of a successful 2015 inaugural event, the second edition of the Chicago Architecturel Biennial is guided by the theme of “Make New History” and will explore the role history plays in making new architecture. The curators have grouped the work into four distinct categories:

  • Building Histories: The Biennial will look back at the history of structures not only for their design influence, but the stories they can tell. For instance, a participant will explore the histories of architectural models as not simply representations of projects, but artifacts unto themselves. Another presenter will screen a short film juxtaposing construction sites with ancient ruins. Also on display will be back-lit latex casts made of historic structures.
  • Image Histories: Other participants were selected for their approach to architecture and its relation to imagery. For example, how can collages borrow recognizable parts of architecture to tell new stories? Exhibits include wallpaper patterns created from overlaid photos of Mies van der Rohe buildings as well as the displayed archives of recently retired architect duo Stanley Tigerman and Margaret McCurry.
  • Material Histories: Here, the participants look at where architectural materials come from and where they are going. One installation will look at how traditional materials are being used in new ways with the aid of computer design and robotic construction techniques. A study of the early “Chicago style” steel frame building technique will be on display, as will an exploration of the color beige which looks at the universe as one big “cosmic latte.”
  • Civic Histories: Finally, the CAB will highlight how we think about cities, how that thinking has changed over time, and what could come next. Notable exhibits include multi-layer maps that show the surface of urban streetscapes as well as what lies beneath, a revisitation of Haussmann's 19th century plan for the city of Paris, and the reimagining of old exercise equipment as modern office furniture.

Like the 2015 edition, the Biennial will not only display thought-provoking works but also transform the Chicago Cultural Center itself. Several so-called legacy installations will return to the building’s interior atrium, corridors, and arcade. The ground floor is set to receive a “labyrinth” of galleries while the Randolph Square lobby space will sport stepped amphitheater style seating to be used for a variety of programming.

A rendering of the Cultural Center’s ‘Randolph Square’ space.
Jay Koziarz

The Cultural Center’s two large halls will see two collaborative exhibits—one emphasizing verticality, the other more horizontal in nature. Yates Hall has been selected to showcase 18 new columns, each designed as a reimagining of Chicago’s iconic Tribune tower. The 16-foot models will be joined by two recreations from the original 1922 design competition for the Chicago landmark. Meanwhile, Gar Hall will provide space for 24 architects to each reinterpret a historical interior photograph as a three-dimensional manifestation.

This year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial launches on September 16, 2017 and will align with EXPO Chicago—Navy Pier’s annual art and design convention. Running through January 7, 2018, the Biennial will feature 141 participants from 20 countries and includes local talent such as Ania Jaworska, Daniel Everett, David Schalliol, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Marshall Brown, Norman Kelley, and many others. The full list of firms and artists participating in this year’s edition can be seen on the Chicago Architecture Biennial’s website.

In addition to its main hub at the Chicago Cultural Center, the Biennial will feature six neighborhood “anchor sites” outside of downtown. They include the Beverly Arts Center in the Beverly community, the DePaul Art Museum in Lincoln Park, the DuSable Museum of African American History in Washington Park, the Hyde Park Art Center in Hyde Park, the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, and the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture in Humboldt Park. Three more participating “community museums” are expected to be announced soon.

Rising 16-feet overhead, these columns in Yates Hall will show 18 alternative designs for Chicago’s Tribune Tower.
Jay Koziarz