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At the Chicago Architecture Biennial, teens get to collaborate with international artists

The biennial aims to bring together global architects, designers, and the people of Chicago.

A scene for the 2017 biennial at the Chicago Cultural Center.
Chicago Architecture Biennial

The Chicago Architecture Biennial is billed as an event that is “free and open to the public” but typically the festival is geared towards practitioners and industry folks. In this third edition, it was important for Artistic director Yesomi Umolu to add inclusive programming that would be accessible and educational for all Chicagoans.

This year’s theme is “...and such other stories,” and focuses on more than just design. The biennial will provide a broader view of the field of architecture by including visual art, policy making, education, and activism in the programming.

In a recent announcement, the biennial team released details on collaborations and educational opportunities that will open up the biennial to Chicago youth.

“Kids make the city too. We’re asking what kind of rights to the city do people have? The programs are meant to educate people to understand we are all part of, and shape, cities.”

The design of a city is influenced by more than just architects and buildings—families, communities, policies, and the environment contribute too, co-curator Sepake Angiama explained to Curbed. The learning initiatives will focus on this idea of collaboration and prioritize engaging communities that have historically been underrepresented in architecture.

So far, this is what’s planned for the 2019 launch:

  • Free biennial guides for a variety of ages that will help visitors explore, discuss, and interact with exhibitions and themes at the architecture festival.
  • A partnership with Chicago Public School high schools will bring architecture and design curriculum to schools without these programs. Participating schools will visit the biennial, participate in events, and enter competitions.
  • In 2019, there will be 15 creative youth studios that will run from July through December. In three-hour sessions, students will discuss issues raised through the biennial exhibitions and produce creative projects of their own.
  • In the fall, a competition for high school students will encourage exploration of the built environment through design, humanities, visual and performing arts, and STEM fields. The winning entries will be displayed at the Chicago Cultural Center during the biennial.

“It is important for people to feel like this is a conversation about the city and that we all produce this space together. The biennial is an opportunity to think about architecture, which isn’t always taught in schools, and the spaces we live in. How might we change them?” said Angiama.

So far, there are at least 10 artists and architects that will collaborate with local Chicago organizations and firms. This is another way that the biennial team will bring these important conversations into community spaces. The visiting architects are excited to work and learn in Chicago, Angiama said. She pointed to two examples—the project with Borderless Studio at the site of Bronzeville’s Anthony Overton Elementary School and the photography residency with Akinbode Akinbiyi and high school students in North Lawndale.

“The biennial is an amazing opportunity to bring these international practitioners and the people of Chicago together. It’s a perfect platform for conversations, ideas, experiments, and figuring out the best way in which to use a space,” said Angiama.

The Chicago Architecture Biennial will kick off September 19, 2019, and run through January 5, 2020. This is the third edition of the months-long architecture festival.