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Chicago Biennial announces theme for third edition

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Beyond design, the event will address policy, education, and activism

An exhibit from a former Chicago Architecture Biennial.
Photo by Andrew Bruah, courtesy of CAB

After the city’s first two biennials, with titles like “The State of Art and Architecture,” and “Make New History,” this year Artistic Director Yesomi Umolu and her team have chosen a theme that makes an effort to showcase the less shiny history but all important stories of Chicago.

“...and such other stories,” will use architecture as a way to examine global issues and bring together diverse perspectives. The third edition of the biennial will side step the well-known narratives of city—like Burnham’s famous vision to “make no small plans” or being home to world’s first steel-framed skyscrapers.

The biennial team along with Mayor Rahm Emanuel were in New York City on Tuesday morning to make the announcement about the architecture event.

Umolu and co-curators Sepake Angiama, a curator whose work centers on education, and Paulo Tavares, a Brazil-based architect and academic, spent months researching in Chicago and the other cities that will be a focus of the biennial.

“Our approach to this edition of the biennial has evolved through conversations with architects, spatial practitioners, and everyday people in Chicago and other global locations, including through partnerships fostered in our research initiatives in the cities of Sao Paulo, Johannesburg, and Vancouver,” said Artistic Director Yesomi Umolu in a statement. “Through these engagements, we have drawn out a myriad of stories about how daily experiences across global communities, cities, territories, and ecologies resonate with architectural and space-making practices.”

Rather than focusing on architecture in isolation, Umolu and her team have expanded the scope of the festival to include not just building, design, and planning but visual art, policy making, education, and activism. It provides important context and a much broader view on the field of architecture.

The biennial is a way to bring conversations at the forefront of the industry to a much wider audience. The issues framed will fall into four general themes: landscapes of belonging and sovereignty; sites of memory; rights and advocacy; and civic participation.

“We are thrilled that this year’s curatorial focus will open up the architectural conversation on key socio-political and environmental issues that shape our present reality and introduce new voices and perspectives. Through the dialogue they catalyze, we expect this Biennial to inform a collectively imagined future,” said Biennial Executive Director Todd Palmer in a statement.

The third Chicago Architecture Biennial, which is the largest architecture and design exhibition in North America, will run from September 19, 2019 to January 5, 2020. Just as in previous years, the central location will be at the Chicago Cultural Center with commissions, residencies, lectures, projects, and other programming throughout the city’s neighborhoods at schools, centers, and other venues.