At the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the role of the horizon in architectural display and setting for events was noticeable—both in the biennial's discussions held at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) Chicago during the opening as well in the main exhibition in the Chicago Cultural Center. Here is what made instant impressions. When the dust settles, various other things will emerge, that I am sure. IIT threw a party for the biennial, as well as hosted panel discussions earlier that day. Without a doubt, Mies van der Rohe's Crown Hall is an unbeatable example (on its ideological turf) of how rigorous rules of platonic geometry still drive the photogenic nature beyond actuality, and somehow end up being free of time. The Crown Hall is not only a setting of purity in Cartesian world of grids, but also an organizational force that persists as a monolith in face of any pluralistic trends of the moment, many of them that are present at the biennial. Two discussions "crowned" the morning of that day. First, by reviewing a group of "Emerging Voices," a descriptor meant for a youngish architecture practice established by The Architectural League of New York. After presentations by Dan Wood, Tatiana Bilbao, Michael Meredith, Florian Idenburg, Paul Lewis and Kim Yao, along with a Martin Felsen-moderated discussion, Anne Rieselbach, of the Architectural League, asked the question that was hanging in the air (paraphrased): For how long will emerging architects will still be considered emerging? Judging by the work presented, the offices owned by the panelists are well ahead in their production of some very important projects. Yet, ideologically, what is the position of supporting institutions of Emerging Voices in order to understand the advance of such highly educated architect makers, influenced by being apprentices to their "parent" architects such as OMA, Peter Eisenman, Steven Holl, Diller Scofidio+Renfro, and SANAA. Are they, the “emerging children,” still struggling to assert their own brilliance and excellence already on record? The interesting and lateral voice was Tatiana Bilbao, architect from Mexico City and the only woman on the panel, for whom the question of influence nor mentorship really seemed to matter. It is always good for the debate to see someone shake the table horizontally and get the discussion to go further. Bilbao is from what people in the North call the South. Which leads me to the observation of the second panel at IIT, moderated by Fabrizio Gallanti and titled "South-North," as an inversion to common understanding of geography. This conversation involved two architects from the “South” and two architects from the “North.” Felipe Mesa and David Barragan, spoke about how different it is to be an architect from the south, and how the south is discovering new phenomena in the last five years, such as tourism. Architecture seems to play a large role in the trend of emerging tourism in locations that were not usually visited before. The lessons from these conversations at this time seem two fold. At one end, the inclusion of the south is simply not just having south, it is about being south from the north. In terms of competence of design and construction process, there seems to be no difference, yet there is asymmetry due to different climates that impose legal regulations onto architecture. David Barragan from Quito referred to vernacular architecture in Ecuador as an escape from the curriculum of the architecture schools there that teach detail drawings made to Swiss and German standards, which no one can read and perform there. The case in point. A side discussion with Paul Lewis unfolded at the scene after these two panels. We both looked at the ceiling of IIT covered in tiles that are in square shape while the entire geometry of the Crown Hall is rectangular. It is good to remember that ideas behind pure architecture are indeed purer in geometry, and not necessarily in economy. Back at the Chicago Cultural Center, three installations stand out as direct answers to the title of the biennial: The State of the Art in Architecture. If not noted before, this title is borrowed from Stanley Tigerman’s conference held at Graham Foundation in 1977. For me two projects presented at the biennial draw attention to this topic at best: First, Nikolaus Hirsch & Michel Müller and, second, WORKac & Ant Farm. They take the aspects of the future from the past seriously into the design process of crafting them now. It is a fantastical world of day-dreaming of architecture that crosses through any statements of architects trying to do art…and fail gracefully…into the next set of ideas of what the future of art shall be, by architecture.
Posts tagged with "Chicago Architecture Biennial":
[Editor’s Note: Opinions expressed in letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions or sentiments of the newspaper. AN welcomes reader letters, which could appear in our regional print editions. To share your opinion, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. ] The State of the Art of Architecture, delivered by the Chicago Architecture Biennial Exhibition, must leave lay-visitors bewildered by one overwhelming subliminal message: Contemporary architecture has ceased to exist, the discipline’s guilt and bad conscience has sapped its vitality, driven it to self-annihilation, and architects have now en masse dedicated themselves to doing good via basic social work. A less charitable interpretation sees the hijacking of the newly created Chicago Architecture Biennial as a marginal but academically entrenched ideological tendency within the discipline that has abandoned its societal remit of innovating the built environment at the world technological frontier, and is instead pouring its allocated resources into concept-art style documentation and agitation on behalf of underdeveloped regions and the milieu. I am rather suspicious of these creative/artistic engagements with poverty. It sometimes risks mutating into a questionable aesthetization of poverty, a questionable romance. Questionable because what the poor of this world most probably (and rightly) aspire to requires little creativity and imagination because it is already plotted out for them by the ladder of development leading up to what has been achieved in the most advanced arenas of world civilization, where—in contrast—true, path-breaking creativity is indeed called for. I rather feel that our discourse has become far too moralizing and politicized. It’s all too familiar by now: Political correctness swamps the discipline and takes over its discursive spaces. For example, why should an ARCHITECTURAL biennial give a huge space to an ART project like Amanda Williams’ Color(ed) Theory when ART has already its own (many more) venues for public display/discourse? How is this more relevant to contemporary architecture than contemporary architecture itself? Patrik Schumacher
A juicy tidbit from the Chicago Architecture Biennial. The number of projects in the Chicago Cultural Center right now is a bit dizzying, but we can only imagine what the place was like during the installation. It is a small miracle that it all fit, let alone got assembled correctly. The process was not without snafus. Multiple sources reported to AN that in the final hours before the preview opening on October 1, the large circular construction by Spanish architects SelgasCano (of Serpentine fame) and helloeverything actually collapsed. Fortunately, it was sturdily put back together for the opening. The team recovered with an elegant tension cable design that worked quite well, and is to be commended under such a last-minute timeframe.
Thursday night, Barbara Kasten’s first major retrospective opened at the Graham Foundation as an offsite event of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. Set in the Madlener house, a turn-of-the century Prairie-Style mansion, the exhibition brings together a roughly chronological overview of the artist’s practice from the 1970s until today. The works on display are of an astonishingly contemporary quality—many of the framed photographs follow the aesthetic paradigms of current net—or Tumblr art featuring primitive geometric shapes of varying surface texture lit in a rich palette of pastel colors forming surreal spatial compositions. Kasten started her career working with fibers, with some of the most impressive works in the show being a series of cyanotype prints from the 1970s achieved by laying down fiberglass molds onto large sheets coated with chemicals. The images evoke seemingly three-dimensional rippled fabric brought to the flat plane through a technical process. Moving further into the third dimension Kasten started to build large-scale studio sets in the 1970s. Her forms highly geometric at first, she increasingly started adding more specific elements such as column details from architectural catalogues. These photographs are highly reminiscent of much more recent images circulating on the internet produced with 3d modeling and rendering software. Many of the analogue processes used by Kasten in this phase of her work can be applied particularly well in the virtual domain. The backgrounds are simplistic and contained, there is no natural light or environment to complicate the render process, and the objects are geometric primitives or sourced from catalogues rather than created from scratch. Despite formal similarities a significant difference separates the ethereal digital spaces from Barbara Kasten meticulously constructed environments. As Kasten points out in a recent interview, weight and gravity play an important role in the construction of sculptures. The props used by Kasten are never mounted in place but rest on or adjacent to each other through gravity. By the 1980s Kasten moved on to incorporating existing buildings into her sets, transforming them through light, color, and mirrors to create compositional photographs. She first worked with corporate headquarters and financial centers and later turned to museums as different kind of spaces of authority. Depicting these composed, lasting, authoritative buildings with temporary, fragile, colorful and disorienting sensibility she produced what Sylvia Lavin coined a kiss, or a powerful statement through a gentle gesture. The images produced in this series act as records of an atmospheric transformation of a number of establishment-reinforcing spaces. On the third floor of the Madlener house the show culminates with a site specific installation. With moving light projections directed at sculptural forms it is like one of her photographic stages come to life. It is a beautiful experience yet also feels like an unmasking of a magicians trick—with the mechanism behind the photographs exposed, the stage-like installation loses some of the precision and specificity of the highly controlled still frames. The piece is most successful at illustrating the incredible breadth of Barbara Kasten’s work, blurring the boundaries between art, installation, and architecture—despite the fact that all the illusions are based on the limits of physical space.
If you're in town for the Chicago Architecture Biennial, be sure to visit the newly-opened Stony Island Arts Bank, a formerly derelict 1923 bank structure on Chicago's South Side that has been transformed into a spectacular center for exhibitions, artist residencies, and the preservation of archival collections of black culture. The building's rebirth was made possible by artist Theaster Gates' Rebuild Foundation, which has renovated three other buildings in the area as part of its program of "culturally driven redevelopment." The Arts Bank's opening, said Gates, offers the Biennial "a way of understanding that great things can happen anywhere if we make the investment." In this case Gates (who bought the building from the city for $1 and then raised hundreds of thousands for its renovation) worked with his team of architects, bringing out the character of each room organically. Some parts were restored, others left as-is, and others made new. "If you're patient with the program, the building has so much to offer," said Gates. The heart of that program, outside of amazing rooms for artists and scholars, is the storage and display of the extensive archives of the Johnson Publishing Company, which printed black lifestyle magazines like Ebony and Jet. That collection is housed in a cavernous 2nd floor library whose books seem to reach to the sky. In other rooms and hallways you can see the Frankie Knuckles collection of the "godfather of black house music: and the Edward J. Williams Collection of more than 60,000 glass lantern slides. On display in the first floor gallery is an appropriately makeshift (and beautiful) installation by Portuguese artist Carlos Bunga. Other Rebuild Foundation buildings include Black Cinema House (also home to Gates' studio), the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative, and Dorchester Projects.
Day two at the Chicago Architecture Biennial continued to deliver with a mix of the best international talent and local practitioners who are rethinking the way we build our cities. We were on the ground battling the wind in the crisp Chicago fall. Here are some of our favorite things we found.
Performance has been the breakout surprise of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. While many of the works inside the Chicago Cultural Center grapple with issues of urbanism, politics, and the resonances of Modernism (especially Mies’ oversized presence in the city) in contemporary culture, the three performances included in the opening weekend program address and embody what is at stake. Views from Superpowers of Ten by Andrés Jaque and the Office for Political Innovation (@andres_jaque, Instagram) Superpowers of Ten by Madrid/New York-based architect Andrés Jaque and his Office for Political Innovation, developed for and first performed at the Lisbon Architecture Triennial 2013, uses pop, oversized props and black-clad performers to restage of the Eames’ icon Powers of Ten. The original film was filmed on the banks of Lake Michigan, not far from the Chicago Athletic Club where it was performed. Jaque’s reworking expands the Eames narrative to our contemporary condition. The exponential zooming out from Earth and then back into the heart of the atom now includes critical questions of space junk, nuclear fallout, immigration, race, queerness, and transgender identity. In a gallery the unorthodox mix of para-architectural issues might seem ponderous, but told through pantomime, they resonate visually and emotionally. We Know How to Order, conceived by Bryony Roberts, and choreographed by Asher Waldron of the South Shore Drill Team powerfully superimposes the movement of African American bodies in space on top of the charged site of Federal Center by Mies van der Rohe. The South Shore Drill Team, hailing from one of the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago, trains young people to master the precise choreography. On the plaza, while the performers mimicked the lines of Mies’ architecture, which underscoring the conditions of universal space into the public realm, they also brought joy and dynamism to the windswept public space. Even stalwarts of the architecture community were moved to tap their feet and wipe their eyes. https://vimeo.com/141231941 Performed in Mies' super spare Carr Chapel on the IIT campus, Theatre by Mexican artist Santiago Borja brought a different kind of otherness to the Miesian space of worship. The performance was set with two specially-designed petate rugs, woven in Mexico, that represent esoteric geometries developed in Europe at the start of the modern movement. Made out of palm leaves, one rug sits on the floor and the other hangs above, demarking what is not so much a stage as an abstract spiritual space for Ingrid Everwijn, the lead teacher of the Eurythmeum CH in Dornach Switzerland. Dressed in pink and yellow dress, Everwijn performed eurythmy movements—a kind of “spiritual gymnastics” developed by Rudolf Steiner and Marie Sivers in early 20th Century. The result was mystical, irrational, and energetic, as well as an immersive experience that undermined the rigors of Miesian abstraction.
After a marathon session of presentations of all architects/artists in the biennial Thursday afternoon was marked by a preview of the complex, yet succinct exhibit House Housing capturing the history of inequality of designed inhabitation. Staged as an open house in one of last remaining buildings of one of the first federally-funded housing complex in Chicago, the exhibition is a walk-through into the part of the future home of the National Public Housing Museum (NPHM). Standing in front of the open house the curators with NPHM directors and residents gave a glimpse of the process that led to this collaboration to the audience in front of the open house. Inside the entrance a dilapidated apartment served as the concrete prop for the exhibit introduced as "An untimely history of architecture and real state in twenty three episodes". Empty, low lit rooms with walls carrying scores of uncannily pealed paint become a home for the installation made of home looking furniture, shelves, desks and platforms. Using multiple mediums and told in 23 episodes throughout the open house, House Housing further uses domestic media such as the phonograph, answering machine, television and iPad to tell the story of inequality of housing that are lived everywhere today. As Martin writes in the pamphlet coming with the exhibit, the domestic media in the installation transforms the crumbling rooms of former apartments into "a whispering, humming history machine." Being inside the open house gives a special sense to the material presented as a culture that is not only economically constrained, but also lived as form of constraint. With this exhibit the NPHM inaugurates its future home and hopes to further initiate debates on economies for housing not shy of ideological investigations of the cause, crisis and removal of modern housing and its replacement with typologies of new urbanism. A couple of visitors could be heard commenting how the spaces of the open house feel like being in a socialist home, a comment not too far off if one unjustly equates poverty with a specific ideology. Ultimately House Housing points to the "art of inequality" carried via the twenty three episodes that are specific, yet global, that its design is still happening as we experience the open house visit. A bleak preview of the future to come that is also uncertain. The exhibition is installed by the Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture and assembled by a team of researchers at Columbia University directed by Reinhold Martin and curated together with Jacob Moore and Susanne Schindler. The group's website has more information about this long term project.
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.
"We were outraged by what we saw—by the violence in everyday life," said Jeanne Gang when asked about the impetuous behind her firm's project Polis Project, a proposed reinvention of the typical police station on view at the Chicago Cultural Center as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. The work, like any number of projects in the exhibition, highlights the what curator Joseph Grima calls “architectural agency,” where firms take on projects not for a client, but out of a sense of urgency to architecturally address important issues. Sparked by incidents of police violence against African Americans across the United States and supported by the May 2015 Obama administration policy brief: the “Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing,” Studio Gang’s research and design proposal flanks the two sides of the Center’s grand stair. One side displays a history of law enforcement architectures—from the neighborhood police box to today’s bunker-like stations—and the other a design proposal for Chicago’s 10th District Station in Lawndale. “We asked ourselves “What is a police station in the 21st Century?”” she noted, pointing out that while past incarnations were community-based as police officers moved out of the neighborhoods where they had a beat, the tensions between locals and officers increased. The architecture of reflected that conflict. “The police station doesn’t carry the same ideas of democracy as a court house,” she noted, but by imbuing these values into the station building, Studio Gang hopes to point a way forward to a new idea of architecture. "Everyone comes though the same front door," Gang said, and explained how the building is more like a community center than a jail. Little things, like free Wi-Fi, and big things, like mental health services, computer labs, park space and retrofitted housing for officers in the neighborhoods, are meant to break down the barriers between the police and residents. Work is already underway. A police-owned parking lot is being transformed into a new park and basketball courts that is meant to be a shared, non-confrontational space in the neighborhood. “This community will have a safe place to play.”
The international architecture cognoscenti have descended on the Chicago Cultural Center with a motherlode of new content from Thailand to Ecuador, ranging from robotically-assembled structures to investigations into social and infrastructural inequality. The consequences of this assemblage will unfold over the next few months, but one room in the Cultural Center is particularly clear in its ambition and vision for the future. BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago explores some of the less iconic, more layered pieces of Chicago's urban fabric. Organizer Iker Gil of MAS Studio prompted 18 local designers to make proposals for urban projects around the city. "I wanted to look forward and imagine new possibilities, but remain still attached to reality," said Gil. "We wanted to use the rules but tweak them a little bit to keep them grounded. Emerging designers such asWEATHERS, Hinterlands Urbanism and Landscape and PORT Urbanism were included alongside established designers such as JAHN and Stanley Tigerman. SOM was paired with smaller firm CAMESgibson. The exhibition prompted designers to tackle key issues at stake in Chicago such as civic, ecological, and infrastructural problems, as well as typological problems like empty lots and high-rises. The projects in the show not only propose new ideas for addressing these issues, but also new ways of conceptualizing an aesthetic project, mostly around bright colors, strong figures, and narrative-based designs. Design with Company chose to reimagine the 1987 Library Competition with a series of 20 "late entries," many of which were based on comments from the public in response to the original competition. They made a stack of referential forms from Chicago and elsewhere, each making its own story, but also combining for one over-arching narrative. SOM and CAMESgibson reimagined the high-rise, using Gibson's visions for new ways of living, combined with SOM's high-rise know-how. The result is a prototype tower that would be deployed at L stops around the city, "upping the ante for transit-oriented development," according to Gibson. URBANLAB proposed to make part of Lake Michigan into a series of filtering civic green spaces that would clean the water, while PORT Urbanism took Lakeshore Drive and put it in the lake to provide a more developable area west of the highway, caving to a law that bans building east of Lakeshore Drive. The resulting space lets a series of towers spring up, which reframes Grant park in a completely new urban condition. David Brown collected nine vacant lots from Chicago's 15,000, assigning them to local designers who reimagined the rules of the empty lot, making a series of flat surfaces into a new collective public space. BOLD's local Chicago agenda stands in stark contrast to the international explosion in the other rooms of the main exhibition. The explorations here posit a palpable group of ideas about how to design cities, with the focus on Chicago. What can investigations in a lively urban place like Chicago teach the rest of the world? BOLD embodies much of the Chicago-specific things about the Biennial, with a strong sense of place and a clear mission that translates globally. The best part of it is that it makes manifest the nascent design scene that has been bubbling up in Chicago for the last seven years. Through strong support from institutions and universities there, this group of young designers has imagined new ways of engaging the city while also forming a cohesive aesthetic and engaging attitude toward architecture in general. So far, it is the locals that are stealing the show.
Hong Kong–based nonprofit research and design firm Rural Urban Framework (RUF) won the Curry Stone Design Prize for its work rebuilding villages across China. Joshua Bolchover and John Lin, both professors at the University of Hong Kong, founded RUF in 2006. Their goal is to harness design to “stabilize, reinvigorate, and rebuild” China’s rural populations. Currently, China is experiencing a mass exodus of population from villages as people move to cities in search of better opportunities. In 1980, approximately 80 percent of all Chinese lived in villages. Today, more than half of the population lives in cities. According to research by Tianjin University, China loses approximately 300 villages every single day. Working closely with the locals, RUF has completed a variety of projects to meet each community’s specific needs, including bridges, schools, hospitals, houses, and even a garbage collection center. To date, RUF has worked in 18 villages to combat the effects urban sprawl and is designing and planning entire villages and prototype housing. “The work of RUF is addressing one of the most urgent current geopolitical issues, how to deal with the imbalances created by large mass migrations,” said Emiliano Gandolfi, the Prize Director. “Their work is exemplifying how architecture should establish a dialogue with the community and the environment in order to built structures that respond to their changing needs.” The Curry Stone Design Prize, founded in 2008 to celebrate socially-engaged designers and inspire others to use design, selects winners by consulting social impact experts and humanitarian advocates. RUF will receive a cash prize to aid its mission and projects in China. RUF will participate in a panel at the Chicago Architectural Biennial, led by Prize Director Emiliano Gandolfi on Friday October 2, from 2:30-4pm CST, taking place at the Claudia Cassidy Theater inside the Cultural Center. A short film produced by the Curry Stone Foundation about RUF’s work will also be shown during the panel.