At the Chicago Architecture Biennial, 99 architects answer, “What’s Urgent?”

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Chicago Cultural Center

Chicago Cultural Center. (Courtesy City of Chicago)

The day started with a marathon session involving all participants in the Chicago Architecture Biennial. Hans-Ulrich Obrist, celebrated curator at the Serpentine gallery in London, together with Sarah Herda, director of the Graham Foundation, and architect Joseph Grima, both Chicago Biennial directors, asked 99 architects one simple question: What is urgent? Every participant had 15 seconds to speak, followed by impromptu questions by the curators. The responses were billed as “Telegrams to the World.”

As Obrist explained, this format turns a boring conference model into something of a non-conference. The ideas and information are not announced and then delivered. They simply happen informally and as the conversations goes.

One of the first participants was architect Andrés Jacque with his call that architecture needs to be more political. Fake Industries Architectural Agonism replied with the message that there should be more open competitions for architects. There were other calls for urgencies, such as achieving gender equality in architecture and using uninhabited housing stock in Greece to house refugees instead of building camps, as well as calling for more order in architecture by Ben Aranda.

Some who were not present in Chicago in person, or architects who were putting last touches on their installations in the Biennial’s main exhibition space left notes that were read aloud. For example, a mischievous note by Italian architect Stefano Boeri was read in his absentia: “Nothing serious can be said about architecture in 15 seconds.” There were some other notes of dissent to the topic of urgency such as “Nothing is urgent” and “Deadlines are urgent more than anything”. In redux, those statements offered a cross-section of architects thinking practically about their daily practices and challenges. The event went for a while and was meant to be a place where one comes and goes as one wishes, somewhat similar to a radio program performed in situ.

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