Posts tagged with "Chicago Architecture Biennial":

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Emerging practices subvert Chicago Athletic Association in Unsolicited Sideshow programming

If you missed the month-long exhibition of the Unsolicited Sideshow in Chicago, it is not too late to be a part of the most subversive portion of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. While the initial exhibition may be over, the programming for the Sideshow continues with the monthly Tank Takeovers at the Chicago Athletic Association. The next event will take place this Friday, November 10 with a “site-specific, immersive light, and sound installation.” The Unsolicited Sideshow first opened with a pop-up exhibition of 11 young architecture practices, literally running alongside the main attraction of the Chicago Architecture Biennial just a few blocks away at the Chicago Cultural Center. For the Tank Takeovers, the Sideshow’s organizers brought together designers, performance artists, and poets over the past months to explore the contemporary conditions of "otherness,” normalcy, and taboo, as they pertain to art, culture, and architecture. In its third installment, this month’s Tank Takeover will take the form of an installation entitled Reverberations. The Tank, the former pool at the Athletic Association, will be filled with projected LED light, “plush puddles of color that spill out onto the floor," and spatial collages activating custom screens. A rotating ensemble of musicians will engage the space, responding and interacting with the installation with experimental music. Presented in collaboration with Detroit and Cincinnati-based firm SUBSTUDIO, the event will include animations by Marc Governanti, and music curated by Zohair Hussein, with fabrication handled by Thomas Dewhirst + Lynn A Jones. The November Tank Takeover will take place at the Chicago Athletic Association on November 10 from 6pm to 10pm. The final Tank Takeover will be on December 8, and will be presented by Portland, Oregon-based Office Andorus in the form of an architectural fiber installation and a dance party.
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Fifty firms imagine 50 futures for Chicago’s underused spaces

Running in conjunction with the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) has opened Between States, a show which brings together over 50 designers to imagine the future of the city’s 50 aldermanic wards. Between States is the second iteration of the CAF’s multi-year 50 Designers/50 Wards project. Last year’s show 50 Designers, 50 Ideas, 50 Wards asked 50 young design firms to design for the city’s wards, while Between States asked a number of more established firms to take on a similar challenge. Each of the firms was asked to address underutilized spaces in each one of their respective wards, as well as reference another project outside of the city in their design. The title of the show, Between States, is a play on this two-part brief, referring to the changing condition of the sites as well as the importing of references from other places. Firms were also asked to work with the community to assess needs and opportunities in the neighborhood they were designing in. The show will run until January 7, 2018 in the CAF’s Atrium Gallery. The exhibition is curated by Martin Felsen, partner at Chicago-based UrbanLab. Invited firms include: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture AECOM ARUP Bailey Edward bKL Architecture Booth Hansen CannonDesign Cordogan, Clark & Associates Dirk Denison Architects eastlake studio Eckenhoff Saunders Architects Epstein Exp Farr Associates Forum Studio Future Firm Gensler Ghafari Associates Goettsch Partners Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture HBRA Architects HDR Holabird & Root JAHN Legat Architects Lothan Van Hook Destefano Architecture Metter|Studio / Morris Architects, Planners Sheehan Nagle Hartray Architects Pappageorge Haymes Partners Perkins + Will Global RADA Architects Searl Lamaster Howe Architects Site Design Group SmithGroup JJR SMNG A Solomon Cordwell Buenz SOM Space Architects + Planners Stantec STL Architects Terry Guen Design Associates Thornton Tomasetti Tom Brock Architect Valerio Dewalt Train Associates Vinci Hamp Architects Vladimir Radutny Architects von Weise Associates Weese Langley Weese Wight & Company, Lohan Studio Woodhouse Tinucci Architects Worn Jerabek Wiltse Architects
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Five fundamental problems with the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial

The second Chicago Architecture Biennial opened last week at the Chicago Cultural Center, one of the country’s grandest interior public spaces. Artistic Directors Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee of Los Angeles–based Johnston Marklee gathered some 140 of the world’s top designers and thinkers to address the main show’s theme, “Make New History.” This theme had the potential to provoke designers to engage the rich history of architecture to innovate the field or imagine ways to inhabit the world at large. This biennial does not do that, and it is a serious problem for the very idea of “history” and thus contemporary architecture. What it does is offer is a strong case study for what we can do better. The following are five critiques in this vein. 1. The theme forced a generation of emerging architects into a narrow and deadening frame Young practitioners today are certainly interested in referencing and recycling ideas and forms, but it is not necessarily “history” and certainly not just “architectural history.” There is a fairly interesting group of designers who are exploring topics like pop culture, hoarding, textures, the everyday, and other reference points in interesting ways. For example, the best projects in this Biennial were about parts, not history. Tatiana Bilbao’s tower in the "Vertical City," as well as MAIO and Andrew Kovacs’s projects in "Horizontal City: Room of Plinths" were provocative and relevant because of their assemblage-like organization, not because they used a particular piece of history in a certain way. When the curators say, as Lee said in a recent Artforum interview, that this generation is bound by the idea that “history is a treasure trove," and "they don’t feel shame or guilt to retrieve from it,” it is an institutional-academic co-optation of a movement that cuts and pastes everything with a digitally-enhanced and inspired slickness. This show makes it seem like another staid disciplinary project, prematurely accelerating all of the participants into what Charles Jencks would call the “Late-Mellow” phase of their careers. This theme of “Make New History” made these nascent practices conform to a prompt. This is manifested formally in the arbitrary conceptual overlay for the mini-exhibition “Horizontal City: Room of Plinths” in GAR Hall, where, according to the exhibit text, “the overall plinth layout and sizes were based upon the 1947 IIT Plan by Mies van der Rohe, which we see as a sort of organizational 'afterimage' or a subtext in the room.” This formal move certainly did not add to the show, and no one would have known about it if it weren’t expressed in the curatorial brief. Instead, what this grid did manage to do was serve as a perfect metaphor for an empty, constricting conceptual framework in which the participants were forced to work. So why participate? It is hard for young practices—essentially all of the practices in this show—to go against the grain of these biennials or refuse to participate, because biennials have become a sort of shadow economy where deals are made and practices are “bought and sold” with institutional currency. There are always people scouting talent at these events, so it is hard to say no to participating. (See point 3) 2. The complexity of history was reduced to precedent Most of the historical references were weak and don't add anything substantive to the projects. They were often simply a pair of precedents, such as in the “Vertical City” mini-exhibition, where architects were challenged to rehash the famous 1922 Chicago Tribune Tower Competition. This competition is an iconic reference point in Chicago architecture history, but like most of the historical references in the show, it pretty much stopped there. Some projects were about “signs” or about “steel construction,” but that label was more or less the extent of it. There was not much criticality in each individual project, and the overall idea of history seemed to simply be about picking a precedent. Precedent and history are two different things: the former is about legal or argumentative justification, while the second is about all the interesting social, political, and formal ideas. Perhaps the exhibition should have simply been “Use Precedent (101).” In 1965, using historical forms such as ornament and classical language was a radical, innovative idea. But today, it looks more like a replay of Philip Johnson’s late version of post-modernism, where attitudes about image and form in architecture—pioneered by people like Charles Moore, Venturi Scott Brown, and Hans Hollein—were reduced to empty signifiers that enforced upper class institutional good taste. ‘Twas this reliance on architectural historicism—rather than the new language of postmodern society—that made pomo into a joke for the dustbin of history. In the past, it has often been clear why we are revisiting particular histories as architectural turns, but here it is not. 3. The biennial's market imperative warped the work that was shown  It is no coincidence that this Biennial is so closely related to the commercial art fair EXPO Chicago. It is in some ways the logical conclusion of the Biennial model: a gathering of celebrities who want to show off their recent work. Obviously the work in the Biennial is not being sold in the same way that the work in the art fair is being sold, but there is an economy at work in both places. And these two markets both influence the work in the exhibitions. Someone should make an artrank.com for architects. In the art fair, collectors speculatively invest in art that will hold value, including art that is produced by future stars, artists whose work is cheap now but will appreciate in years to come. This dictates what kind of work is displayed. In the Biennial, young designers are given a “platform” that will—at least in theory—lead to future work and opportunity. This marketplace, unfortunately, shapes the work. In a forthcoming essay entitled “Peripatetic Pettena" in the book The Curious Mr. Pettena (Humboldt Publishers, 2017), artist and architect James Wines reflects on the state of art fairs and the effects of the commoditized market upon art. In the following excerpt, it would work just as well if you replaced “art fair” with “2017 Chicago Biennial;” “Pop era” with “early postmodernism;” and “Abstract Expressionism” with “modernism.”

In today’s gallery world, where stock exchange voracity appears interchangeable with art fair commodity peddling, the anti-commercial and introspective dialogues of the environmental movement during the late 1960s and 70s were like apostolic meditations by comparison.  Even the merchandising excesses associated with Pop Art now seem like somber banking conventions, in contrast to the souk-like sales tactics of current international expos...to its historical credit, the Pop era contributed significantly to liberating the 1960s New York art scene from the fusty anti-figurative bias of third generation Abstract Expressionism.  By contrast, current events like Miami Basel and the Armory Show appear dominated by hyperbolic celebrations of conceptual vacuity, a disproportionate enthusiasm for transitory talent and a steadfast avoidance of original aesthetic values. There is a ubiquitous re-packaging of influences from the past, defended with such vaguely apologetic labels as ‘Appropriation, Pseudorealism, Post-postmodernism, Metamodernism and Neomimimalism.  Too much of the new work, endorsed as hot ticket progressivism is, in reality, a deferent version of ‘if-you-please’ avant-garde.

4. "History" was stale and familiar, and largely irrelevant today  In this Biennial, there were some interesting bits of lesser-known history and some amazing moments of drawing and architectural assemblage. But the curation was uneven, and swerved from heavy-handedness with no productive end to the usual suspects doing their usual things unrelated to the project at hand. In the "Vertical City" show, for example, the wall texts read like a presentation from a first-year design studio. Very little new information was introduced,  and the show took a boring typology—the tall tower—and didn’t even update it. Instead, we got a very personalized response from each designer. There wasn’t much that was “new” or historical in this room. While the 2015 version of the Biennial was simply “all the cool stuff we could find,” it was indeed, cool stuff, at the edge of knowledge both within and outside of the discipline. Biennials don’t have to solve all the world’s problems or solve inequality, but they can at least relate to the outside world in a coherent way. In the end, disciplinary knowledge is at its best when it has productive friction with issues outside the profession. The historical canon is being questioned today more aggressively than ever. There is a real need to probe what kinds of histories we are telling and where. On one of the biggest platforms in the world like the CAB, it was unfortunate that this exhibition only reinforced a Western ideal of architectural history. Almost all of the “history” here was from the Western canon. Now would be the time to really upend some of the stale narratives that have dominated architectural history in the past. 5. Its relationship to art was all wrong The art references made in this Biennial are mostly from the 1960s, such as Ed Ruscha, from whom the title was borrowed, Gordon Matta-Clark, and Claus Oldenburg. While certainly interesting, these antiquated modern art references keep the exhibition from engaging with the contemporary, adding another layer of alienation. Contemporary art biennials have moved so far past these modern art references that it makes this Biennial look completely out of date. The Berlin Biennale 9 (BB9) in 2016, curated by the New York collective DIS, was full of ultra-contemporary works that addressed all kinds of issues today like cryptocurrency, surveillance, wellness, migration, emerging technologies, new social norms, and radical shifts in how we consume media, among a host of topics. It was criticized for not being overtly political enough, but it did access some of the pertinent ideas that are affecting how we live today. There is really no way to compare the sheer horror and excitement that came from BB9 to the dusty 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial. So given these five issues, what do we take away from the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial? If this show is any indication, there is a real case to be made for abandoning the language of architectural history entirely and inventing something else. Some of the most interesting times for architecture occurred when we tried to move beyond something prior, or as Bertolt Brecht said, “Erase the traces!” If there is a role for architectural history outside of the academy, it is not obvious what that might be, based on what this show demonstrated. How history was deployed was problematic for the discipline, as it was too narrow in its purview, and made an exciting time in architecture (the re-orientation of the discipline in the age of digital space and ubiquitous digital production) into another worn-out historical trope.
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What is the future of the Chicago riverfront?

While many architects moon over biennials and architecture festivals, these shows are often a bit esoteric for the general public. The Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB) is no exception. Amidst the complex discussions and abstract installations, the average visitor may enjoy the show, but also feel a bit disconnected. However, there is one show at CAB that anyone would find accessible. Located in EXPO 72 across the street from the Chicago Cultural Center, the exhibition, Chicago Urban River Edges Ideas Lab, presents the visions of nine firms for the Chicago River. Chicago Urban River Edges Ideas Lab was initiated by the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development and the Metropolitan Planning Council to solicit proposals for the city’s quickly evolving riverfront. Firms participating in the show include David Adjaye, James Corner Field Operations, Perkins + Will, Ross Barney Architects, Sasaki, Site Design, SOM, Studio Gang Architects, and SWA. Each firm addressed three sites along the river with designs that ranged from outdoor theater spaces to water remediation and ecological classrooms. Other ideas included policy suggestions, such as SWA’s forest bonus, rather than a density bonus. Multiple offices proposed ways of engaging more closely with the river itself, including James Corner Field Operation’s softened edge and Perkins+Will’s riverside beach. The three sections of the river addressed by the show are the Civic Opera House, the Congress Parkway, and the Air Line Bridge. Each of these sites present different challenges which the city hopes to resolve. While large stretches of the riverfront have already been converted into the Chicago Riverwalk, there are over 156 miles that have yet to be developed or connected with public walkways and activity spaces. The initial downtown stretch of redeveloped space was designed by Ross Barney Architects and Sasaki, and was completed earlier this year. The exhibition, which was also designed by Ross Barney Architects, aims to engage public feedback and present ambitious yet feasible visions of the river’s future. Throughout, large renderings with texts allow visitors to compare proposals side by side. Those interested are directed to the project's extensive website to watch interviews with the architects, watch animated shorts about the proposals, and send commentary to the city and designers. “We thought this would be a great way to bring together a bunch of very creative folks, as well as help Chicagoans begin to imagine how this could work and what their place in it would be,” explained Josh Ellis, vice president of Metropolitan Planning Council at the exhibition opening. While the exhibition is not intended to be a competition, it is clear that each of the offices poured resources and brain power into the project. The Department of Planning and Development as well as the Mayor’s office have been explicit in their search for ideas for the future of the river. “This is just a snapshot of how serious each of these teams took this. These are meant to be ideas that can be realized,” said Clare Cahan, studio design director at Studio Gang at the opening. “There are things that will be attractive to communities, attractive to the city, and attractive to developers.”
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Jeanne Gang-Nick Cave collaboration launches EXPO and Chicago Architecture Biennial

For the concurrent opening of EXPO Chicago and the Chicago Architecture Biennial, artist Nick Cave and architect Jeanne Gang put on a show few are likely to forget. The first performance of their collaboration, Here Hear Chicago. took place on September 13 at Navy Pier’s AON Grand Ball Room for a capacity crowd during EXPO’s Vernissage. Subsequent shows will take place over the weekend for the public. The buzzing atmosphere of EXPO’s preview night was overtaken by the sound of drums a half hour before the scheduled start of the performance, as a parade of Cave's uncanny “Soundsuit”-clad performers marched between the stalls of the international art show. Guests ran to get a look and cheered the scene as the performers made their way to the grand ballroom. Before entering the space, the troop moved through a forest of six-foot tall “buoys,” made by Studio Gang. Each performer wove and danced around the more than 200 teetering chrome Mylar objects as the crowd followed. Nick Cave-Jeanne Gang: Here Hear Chicago (Courtesy Spirit of Space) from Architect's Newspaper on Vimeo. The show itself began in a more muted key. Set to the haunting music of composer Kahil El'Zabar, Cave and a group of young men took the stage. Sitting perfectly still for a full half hour, each was attended to by a white-clad attendant who slowly and methodically dressed them in colorful fur soundsuits. When they finally stood, bodies completely abstracted, the crowd roared their approval. For the next 45 minutes, the performers moved through the space, interacting with each other and the crowd. Most of the time their bodies were abstracted and concealed. A fleeting glimpse of a foot or hand shooting out from the exorbitant costuming was the only hint of humanity in the alien forms. Guttural calls and howls by the performances accompanied El'Zabar’s abstract jazz, with the occasional call back from members of the audience. In the last moments of the show, Nick Cave set the long line of buoys lining the stage into movement. For those who may have hoped that the Studio Gang-designed elements would have played a larger role in the performance, this was the apex. Once the show was complete, many guests rushed to engage with the playful forms. Here Hear Chicago was part of the kick-off of the sixth EXPO CHICAGO international art exhibition and the second Chicago Architecture Biennial. EXPO runs from September 13 through September 17 at Navy Pier, and the Chicago Architecture Biennial runs from September 16 through January 7, 2018 at various venues, with a main exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center.  
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What’s up with the Chicago Architecture Biennial?

The 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB) will open its second iteration this September under the theme “Make New History.” This raises some serious questions. Why are we still talking about “history” in architecture? Didn’t the cheeky use of architectural history doom postmodernism? Early postmodernism’s original, successful use of decorative, historic forms was a radically subversive act in the 1960s, a revolt against the hegemony of Miesian corporate modernism. But isn’t there a new language for today’s context? One could make the argument that history is always present in architecture, even if there isn’t an obvious rampant arch or column. For example, as digital techniques took off in the 1980s and '90's, Chuck Hoberman looked to Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome for precedent. Isn’t history ironically present even in the most radical ideas? Is referencing "history" a way of going back to the pomo of 1979, or even the Romanesque Revival of the mid-1800s? What do we even mean by “history”? Is there a more underwhelming word in architecture? Do we need another Chicago Tribune Tower competition, which the biennial intends to revisit? Hasn’t the Chicago architecture community—led by Stanley Tigerman (and his late submissions)—done enough of those? It can be argued that the site, context, politics, codes, and people involved in any project leave a mark and, if we look close enough, define and historicize most buildings. How many times can we simplify architectural forms into lower-res versions of themselves until we are at minimalist modernism again? It seems history—rather than a productive starting point for intellectual inquiry—is becoming a flaccid category deployed to showcase the work of friends without thinking too much about the content? Perhaps this would have been an opportunity to consider how architectural history relates to the city and its inhabitants. In other words, what does it mean to be the Chicago Architecture Biennial? Consider the responsibilities of staging a massive architecture exhibition in one of the grandest public interiors in the world. Will summer vacationers Gary and Sheila from Waukesha, Wisconsin, understand—let alone care about—the exhibition? The city's first architecture biennial introduced a formidable group of Chicago practitioners to the larger architectural community and presented a balanced global perspective to the people of Chicago. Was the 2015 biennial so good because it blended the global and local perfectly? Was it the first biennial’s inimitable leadership—Graham Foundation Director Sarah Herda’s on-the-ground supervision and architect-curator Joseph Grima’s global perspective—that impressed Chicago on the contemporary architecture consciousness? What is the real goal of this year’s biennial? Is it to summon the usual suspects for another round of talks and events that will struggle to be different than what we saw Venice and Oslo?  Will this year have a balance of geographic perspectives? Will there be too many Swiss participants, and if so, why? Will there be any “history” from the rich history of the global south? Will Chicago Round Two be the point where we finally reach peak “-ennial?” Perhaps what all of this boils down to is: How will “history” operate in this biennial? This could be an opportune moment in which history could connect the biennial to issues outside of architecture, or speculate on new ways architecture could be relevant in the world. It could help point to the future and imagine how technology, the environment, migration, and other nascent geopolitical forces will rearrange the world. Or will we fall asleep listening to yet another reflection on Rosalind Krauss and John Baldessari? So, what is the reason for this return to something that we never really lost? And how will this about-face to “history” be different than past discursive turns? There are certainly new ways of making and working available in examining history, but is “history” just a disciplinary co-opt of a broader, more relevant phenomenon endemic in our cut-and-paste culture and the information age? History in this year's Chicago biennial seems to be used as an empty signifier that denotes taste and style, like the art we might see at EXPO Chicago, which—not coincidentally—will run in parallel to CAB. The curators say they are interested in "the axis between architecture and art." But if we really want to talk about art and architecture, why not look at contemporary art and how it combines disciplinary knowledge with relevant issues—and how it seems to be having better luck than architecture operating in a market that it is completely dependent on?
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What happened to speculation in architecture?

This is a preview of our September issue, out tomorrow. What happened to speculation in architecture? At a recent symposium at the Yale School of Architecture titled “Aesthetic Activism,” Dean of the Syracuse School of Architecture Michael Speaks noted that curiously, architecture has lost its penchant for speculation in recent years. He cited the two most recent Venice Biennales as evidence of this trend, as the curators chose to look at the elements of building (Rem Koolhaas’s Elements, 2014) and reporting on reality in regions beyond what the Biennale had traditionally addressed (Alejandro Aravena’s Reporting from the Front, 2016). He also discussed the Chicago Biennial in 2015, which arguably focused on practice, rather than architecture. What happened to architecture’s ability to speculate on the world around us, as was the ordinary in the 20th century, from Le Corbusier and the modernists to Archigram and the radical architects of the 1960s and 1970s? In the latest issue of The Architect's Newspaper (AN), we set out to survey the state of architectural speculation today. AN Contributing Editor Sam Lubell will be opening the exhibition Never Built New York, which features proposals that were never realized. You could say that looking at the history of unbuilt architecture is speculation. So we set out to find what might be in the Never Built exhibition of 2050. What is speculation today? We found that in architecture, most speculation is more like plausible futures. It is being developed by private industry in some cases, well within the realm of possibility. Many think that self-driving cars are a revolutionary technology, and are a matter of “when,” not “if.” But why have so few architects gotten out in front of this technology looking for opportunities to change the city? Solar technologies, like those being developed at Tesla, would also have the potential to radically change how we build. Our research confirms that in many ways Speaks is correct in his thinking about a lack of speculation. Architects are not really thinking much about new ways of living and relating to the world outside of our own history and discourse. I would argue that the upcoming Chicago Biennial appears to confirm this idea. We did manage to find an interesting mélange of projects that project toward that future. From automation and smart cities, to floating islands (front page), there are some plausible futures that might be very real someday. So it is not necessarily speculation, but just futurist realism, which we found to be a fruitful endeavor. In an interview with Amelie Klein of the Vitra Design Museum about her exhibition as part of the Vienna Biennale, she reported that many of the most speculative work in architecture that she has come across is actually happening in the realm of construction, such as the algorithms used by Achim Menges at the University of Stuttgart, Institute for Computational Design, to minimize material use and create new ways of making. While the discipline might be struggling to imagine new ways of living, it is not a boring time for architecture. The world around us is changing quickly, and we can see several new futures simultaneously developing before our eyes. It may not be about predicting or producing new futures, but about reflecting on the present and what plausible near futures could be on the horizon and how they will affect our cities.
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Architectural “sideshow” to run alongside the Chicago Architecture Biennial

The Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB) won’t be the only show rolling into town this September. Just a few blocks away from the Biennial’s hub at the Chicago Cultural Center, the Unsolicited Sideshow will take over the lobby and mezzanine of the Chicago Athletic Association (CAA). Like sideshows of the past, the Unsolicited Sideshow will operate on the edge of the big show and will include a series of exhibitions and events that don’t quite align with the main stage. The Unsolicited Sideshow will explore concepts of “otherness,” normalcy, and taboo, through the architectural mediums of form, program, materials, and affect. The ten contributors to the show will produce work to comment on contemporary culture and politics, and their relationship to contemporary architecture. Contributors include: Adrianne Joergensen (Singapore) Architecture Hero (Chicago) Chicago Underground Practice (Chicago) Cosmo Design Factory (Philmont, New York) Could Be Architecture (Chicago) office ca (Columbus, Ohio) John Clark (Chicago) Office Andorus (Portland) SUBSTUDIO (Detroit and Cincinnati) Team B Architecture & Design (Cincinnati) Throughout the exhibition, the Sideshow will also hold "Tank Takeovers," events and performances held in the CAA’s former ground-floor pool. These monthly events will include DJs, additional architectural installations, and puppet shows, to name a few. The exhibition is being curated by Joseph Altshuler and Zack Morrison of Could Be Architecture, Chelsea Ross, and will be designed by Matthew Harlan. The exhibition is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to produce the show. The Unsolicited Sideshow will run from September 15th through October 16th at the Chicago Athletic Association.
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Chicago Architecture Biennial to offer free tours of Wright-designed Johnson Wax

Once again, the Chicago Architecture Biennial and SC Johnson will host free tours of the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Johnson Wax corporate headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin. Located about 75 miles north of Chicago, the campus was built between 1936 and 1939. Along with the 14-story Johnson Wax Research Tower, the administration building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976. Tours will run from September 16th through January 7th, coinciding with the opening of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. Leaving from the Chicago Cultural Center, the tour includes the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings as well as the Norman Foster–designed Fortaleza Hall. On Saturdays and Sundays the tour also stops at Wingspread, a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for Herbert Fisk Johnson Jr., president of S.C. Johnson during the late 1930s. The Johnson Wax campus is often considered one of Wright’s masterworks, in spite of or possibly because of, the controversy surrounding its design and construction. Aside from the notoriously leaky details, which are found in many of Wright’s projects, the buildings were exorbitantly over budget. Scientists in the Research Tower also found the space to be drafty and uncomfortable. Even with these issues, the project was innovative on many levels. The famous dendriform lily pad columns are no less than an engineering feat. At only nine inches wide at the base and 18 feet wide at the top, few believed they would sustain the weight of the roof. When tested, they were able to sustain loads five times that needed. The Research Tower used a structural systemsimilar to Wright’s Price Tower in Texas, complete with cantilevered floor plates and an early curtain wall system. The tours are free, but seats need to be reserved online.
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Chicago Architecture Biennial may feature large installation of unique, towering columns

This post is part of our years-long running Eavesdrop series (think page 6 for the architectural field). It’s your best source for gossip, insider stories, and more. Have an eavesdrop of your own? Send it to: eavesdrop[at]archpaper.com.

Although the Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB) has begun to reveal the themes guiding this year’s exhibition, only a few details have slipped out regarding the physical content of the show. Rumors have it though that many of the large exhibition spaces within the Chicago Cultural Center will be organized by installations in which multiple participants have produced variations on a form or typology. One of these installations is reportedly going to be comprised of a room full of 16-foot-tall models of Tribune Tower submissions, each designed and fabricated by a different office. Many in Chicago are anxious to see which direction artistic directors Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee—both architects not professional curators—are going to take the largest North American architectural exhibition.

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Studio Gang and artist Nick Cave team up for special performance

As details begin to emerge surrounding EXPO Chicago and the Chicago Architecture Biennial, this latest announcement brings together one of Chicago’s favorite artists with one of its favorite architects. Scheduled to debut during EXPO’s vernissage on September 13th, Jeanne Gang and her office Studio Gang Architects have teamed up with artist Nick Cave to produce a new performance piece. Entitled Here Hear, the collaboration will have performers “intersect and respond to a field of dynamic, custom-fabricated objects.” Dressed in Nick Cave’s fantastical "Soundsuits," performers will enact Cave's latest choreographed Up Right Chicago as well as his HEARD performance. All of this will presumably take place in an environment designed by Studio Gang, all to the music of Chicago Jazz musician Kahil El Zabar. “Up Right Chicago is a call to arms, head and heart, with each performance preparing the initiates’ mind, body and spirit to face the forces that stand in the way of selfhood,” said Cave in a press release. “Through movement, ritual and song, performers enter a world they have complete control over, like warriors of their own destiny.” The new Up Right Chicago performance involves ten “initiates”—members of the community—as well as ten “practitioners,” including Cave and his partner Bob Faust. “Like Cave’s works, the objects blur the boundary between audience and performer,” said Gang. “People will engage with the objects, making them performative and expanding the collaboration to the city of Chicago.” After the first performance, the show will be moved to the outdoors to Navy Pier’s Polk Bros Performance Lawn to be performed on September 16th as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. EXPO has also hinted that there may be additional performances, saying a full schedule will be released later in the summer.
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What the Chicago Architecture Biennial’s list of firms tells us about the upcoming biennial

With only one previous iteration, it seems impossible not to continuously compare the upcoming 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial to its predecessor. And that does not have to be a bad thing. During a panel discussion during the inaugural 2015 Biennial, British architect Sam Jacob was asked what the theme of next biennial should be. His response? In sum: Just do the exact same theme. That way, not only can we see the progress of the field over two years, but then we will also have two events that can be compared, apples to apples. His statement, though somewhat in jest, seems to have been, at least in part, prophetic.

With the recent announcement of the participants list, under the artistic direction of Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee of Johnston Marklee, we have our first look at how similar the exhibition may be. And though the list of around 100 offices does include many new names, there are 22 repeats from 2015. There are other similarities between the lists. Neither 2015 nor 2017 include any significant contribution from corporate firms. In 2015 this was a sore point for many of the hundreds of local architects that work in the numerous mega-firms in Chicago. Many local architects admitted to not even having seen the show, despite it being free and only blocks from many of the largest offices in the city.

But this is why Jacob’s idea of repetition could end up being so brilliant. First, the biennial is not for the big corporate firms—even if it is being held in the city that is bursting with giants. Biennials are where the most avant-garde architectural discourse is presented. While contemporary large firms often lead the way in engineering and technological daring, they are rarely at the fore of architectural discussion. The nature of their business means that they cannot afford to be. Small, young practices on the other hand, with fewer mouths to feed and less money on the table, can’t afford not to be on the edge. For ambitious young firms, being experimental is the only way to set themselves apart in a world of architecture blogs and Instagram. For good or for bad.

One thing the large firms do well is exporting Chicago Architecture to the rest of the world. The biennial is a rare chance for the city, and the U.S. at large, to import some architecture. This factor should never be undervalued. The well-known story of Frank Lloyd Wright being influenced by the Japanese pavilion at the 1893 Columbian Exposition should be enough of a lesson. Chicago is already benefitting from this in the form of the Museum of Contemporary Arts’ upcoming renovation by two 2015 CAB participants, Johnston Marklee and Pedro&Juana.

Something can also be said about the quality of the practices being invited. The list, repeats and new firms alike, is filled with excellent firms. The names might not always be familiar or pulled from glossy magazine pages, but the last iteration is proof that these practices are thoughtful yet daring in their architecture. The United States, and Chicago in particular, have a problem with not supporting small and/or young practices. Biennials are a place where that can happen.

Another notable similarity is the presence of Johnston and Lee. They were responsible for an exhibit in the main show as well as a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Johnston was also on the jury for the 2015 Biennial’s Lakefront Kiosk Competition (a program that will not be continuing this year).

Only five months out from the September 17 opening, we still don’t know a ton about what the show will be all about. Yet through a close reading of the participant list, and the memory of the last show, we can make some educated guesses about its nature. The overlap of offices, the exclusion of corporate firms, and the main venue of the Chicago Cultural Center tell us the show will likely feel familiar. Yet, knowing the wide range of small, diverse offices, it is just as likely to be full of surprises and architectural ideas that Chicago has not seen.