In 2015, the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial attracted over a half-million visitors. This year, the organizers hope to push that number even higher by bringing together events, exhibitions, talks and installations by some 140 notable firms from around the world. To help sweeten the pot, its opening week coincides with the city’s other big cultural jamboree, Expo Chicago.
The two events – one for design aficionados; the other for art lovers – are a natural fit in many ways, attracting audiences with an appreciation for contemporary culture and ideas. Last month, CAB’s appointed Artistic Directors, Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee of Johnston Marklee Architects in L.A., titled the biennial’s overarching theme as Make New History.
“History is built-up intelligence over the years,” said Lee about the theme, “so we think this is a time when architects can look at the future by looking to the past.” Johnston and Lee have invited global participants to reimagine the event’s main venue, the Chicago Cultural Center’s Yates Hall, in the context of the most pressing issues of our times. One of the main elements is a collection of scale-model dioramas that reconsider the interiors of some of architecture history’s most iconic buildings.
“Understanding historical frameworks is ever-more important today,” says Lee. “We don’t think the biennial needs to be a survey of all the best work [in North America]. Instead, we’d rather have one theme and see how people from different generations focus on that theme. I want people to leave with a sense of wonder, and also a sense of excitement, because wonder does not imply a complete understanding; it triggers things that leads to more inquiry.”
CAB and Expo Chicago have partnered on one intriguing exhibit, curated by the Palais de Tokyo’s Katell Jaffrès, who is bringing together 11 artists from the French and Chicago art scenes to The Roundhouse, a 1,580-square-metre structure originally built in 1881 and designed by Burnham & Root.
While CAB may not be a showcase of major firms, there are some familiar names in the lineup, including SANAA of Tokyo, and architect Diébédo Francis Kéré of Berlin who has gained international accolades for his stunning timber-constructed Serpentine Pavilion in London, on view this past summer.
Most of the participants derive from the U.S., Mexico and Europe, with a noticeable absence of Canadian firms. (Toronto studio Khoury Levit Fong is participating, though the practice is better known for its academic pursuits. Rodolphe el-Khoury, for one, resides in Miami, where he is Dean at the University of Miami’s School of Architecture.)
A number of events will be site-specific. One highly anticipated performance-based project is set at Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, where multidisciplinary artists Gerard & Kelly will perform a dance that transverses the interior and exterior spaces of the house famously known to be too transparent to live in, according to its original owner Edith Fransworth.
New York firm SO-IL has teamed up with artist Ana Prvački to stage a poetic collaboration at Navy Pier, where an ensemble of air-filtering mesh enclosures will be worn by musicians while they play a new music composition especially written for wind instruments.
Another performance slated to open the biennale is by local artist Nick Cave, who is known for his “soundsuits” – wildly colourful and fantastic costumes made from everyday materials. Cave’s performance, also at Navy Pier on September 16, is a joint effort with architect Jeanne Gang whose firm Studio Gang crafted custom-designed objects for Cave and his troupe to interact with.
Stay tuned for more CAB events. Azure‘s editor Catherine Osborne will be on the ground and at the biennale reporting live. The Chicago Architecture Biennial runs September 16, 2017 to January 7, 2018. Expo Chicago is on view September 13 to 17, 2017.