What is the state of architecture today? What motivates different architects from around the world to improve the conditions of the planet's inhabitants? If you find yourself in the City of Chicago in the next few months, you will be submerged in a discussion of what architecture is, and what it can and should be in the future.
The ArchDaily team spent the end of last week at the opening of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, an anticipated celebration of architecture at a scale previously unseen in North America. Supported in large part by the city of Chicago itself, Mayor Rahm Emanuel expressed that he wanted his city "to be dead center" in a conversation about how architecture can positively impact cities around the world. In response, curators Joseph Grima and Sarah Herda reviewed the work of over 500 architects worldwide and selected over 100 architects from more than 30 countries to "demonstrate that architecture matters at any scale."
Under the title "The State of the Art of Architecture," Grima and Herda looked to the architects themselves to reveal not one theme in particular, but to highlight the built forms, strategies and speculations that emphasize the "agency of the architect." Spread over seven venues (The Chicago Cultural Center, Millennium Park, Stony Island Arts Bank, Graham Foundation, 72 E. Randolph, Water Tower Gallery and IIT), world-renowned, well-known architects exhibit projects alongside up-and-coming instigators. Some of the installations are serious, others are more light-hearted and provocative; on the whole, however, they provide an inviting global snapshot of the challenges facing architecture production today.
From this large group of participants, we have selected 15 of the most intriguing, inspiring and bold experiments exhibited in this year's Biennial. They show the myriad ways in which architecture can be practiced, and illustrate how architects have taken on the opportunity to make architecture matter in the world.
As an introduction to our extended coverage of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, we invite you to learn more about projects that range in scale from a small drawing to a full-scale house prototype. And in the coming days we will be posting interviews with the curators and participants, so keep an eye on our Chicago Architecture Biennial landing page.
SOU FUJIMOTO ARCHITECTS
Architecture Is Everywhere
Building on the idea of “found architecture,” Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto re-contextualized ordinary objects—an ashtray, a loofah, matchboxes, potato chips, ping pong balls, etc—by inhabiting them with small, white scale figures. A text on the wall explains: “Architecture could come into being from anywhere. I believe fostering that architecture-to-be not real architecture itself is also architecture.” This outwardly light-hearted approach actually forces one to appreciate how architecture can appear, unexpectedly, almost anywhere. Where there are humans, there is architecture.
GRAMAZIO KOHLER RESEARCH, ETH ZÜRICH + SELF-ASSEMBLY LAB, MIT
This three-footed installation made of thousands and thousands of tiny rocks was actually constructed by a robot and without the use of any adhesive — just rocks and thread! “This is the revolution,” remarked the curators, noting that the technology that created Rock Print can allow for the further development of architecture-scale “jammed materials” structures. In a finisage ceremony at the end of the Biennial, Rock Print will be disassembled by “unravelling” the string that holds it together.
You won’t be able to actually use the stairs, ladders and trapezes in Atelier Bow-Wow’s whimsical construction, but you will be able to observe the courtyard installation from many different parts of the building. Recalling the Piransei’s Imaginary Prison allegory, the Japanese architects provide a pointed critique of the “constraints of daily life” by presenting (inoperable) circulation elements.
VO TRONG NGHIA ARCHITECTS
Vo Trong Nghia Architects is on a mission to deliver quality, low-cost, durable and mass-produced housing to the inhabitants of the Mekong Delta area. Their S House, built at full scale in a fourth-floor gallery at the Chicago Cultural Center, allows visitors to see and feel the light-weight galvanized steel structure, open floor plan and thatch covering. At less than $4,000, low costs are maintained by using the residents themselves as the builders of their own homes.
Moon Hoon’s 27 obsessive, detailed, fantastic doodles reveal structures that can’t be built alongside complex concepts expressed as architecture. Doodle Constructivism helps us understand not only the exceptional work of Moon Hoon, but does so through one of the most fundamental media of architecture communication — the drawing.
Place for Gathering
Francis Keré uses a locally sourced resource (wood) to provide a naturally scented experience at the entrance of the Chicago Cultural Center. Extending below the visitors’ line of sight, "Place for Gathering" is nevertheless unavoidably noticeable for its smell of a work-in-progress — an apt opening note to this first Biennial. Building on Kéré Architecture's central preoccupation with "maximizing local resources and facilitating the exchange of ideas and knowledge," their intervention successfully allows people to connect and share.
Pedro&Juana’s Randolph installation greets Biennial visitors with a low hanging ceiling landscape created with lamps and counterweights, complemented with sheer “living room” furniture. The space resembles a de-stablized domestic space, and in combination with the other projects located at the entrance of the Chicago Cultural Center, demonstrates how Chicagoans can reclaim and reactivate their public space.
RAAAF (RIETVELD ARCHITECTURE-ARTAFFORDANCES)
The End of Sitting – Cut Out
RAAF activated the space it shares with the Biennial’s small shop by reproducing part of their succesful “The End of Sitting” project. This transformative furniture immediately draws visitors to interact with its cosy-yet-angular nooks and crannies.
House No.11 (Corridor House)
MOS Architects House No. 11 proves that corridors can be rethought as a spatial model that should be celebrated and brought to the fore, not relegated to use as pure circulation. The configuration of these corridor modules creates intriguing interior and exterior spaces. “It’s repetitive. It’s made of parts. It’s casual. It’s almost familiar. It’s nothing in particular. It’s fits on a truck.”
Winner of the BP Prize for the Lakefront Kiosk Competition, Ultramoderne's light, square-shaped shelter on the edge Lake Michigan forms part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial's more permanent legacy. Under the large, flat wooden roof, visitors can appreciate views of the lake; or they can climb the stairs for a view shaped by the platform's artificial horizon.
TOMÁS SARACENO (Berlin, Germany)
This project experiments with four spaces created by different spiders that have adapted to a context with distinct variables such as music and time. Saraceno’s research and art shows how inspiration can be found in the spider’s fascinating, manipulated production of space.
Exhibited as part of eighteen ideas conceived for “Bold: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago,” URBANLAB’s Filter Island envisions the potential of a re-designed Chicago River (dammed into separate water ways) and environmental benefits of an island that literally filters sewage and rainstorm runoff. “Rather than hide the water-cleaning process, Filter Island reveals it.”
TATIANA BILBAO S.C.
Tatiana Bilbao materialized and quantified the discussion of affordable housing, in a way that the general public (not just architects) can understand and appreciate. Her full-scale proposal for Sustainable Housing in Mexico City shows that architecture should not be a luxury reserved for the upper echelons of society, but that one can have a thoughtfully designed home for less than $15,000.
Cultural Territory: Complexo da Maré
Reacting against stigmatized views of the favela, RUA’s model of Maré in Rio de Janeiro challenges ideas about the single, homogenized favela and invites ideas for growing the district’s artistic influence in the city. The model on view in the Cultural Center has been a work-in-progress since 2013 and even includes demolition debris from Chicago buildings.
BESLER & SONS + ATLV
The Entire Situation
The Entire Situation honors the humble steel stud and forces us to consider a building from the inside out, asking for a reexamination of the stud “within the domain of construction but also at the level of architectural finish and detail.” By creating a new link between the production of architectural concepts (in programs like BIM) to the physical production of 1:1 models and prototypes, Besler & Sons + ATLV show that there are “literal gaps” to be explored and appreciated.
A small note: Only because our list is focused on installations and projects that you can still see at the Chicago Architecture Biennial (which runs until January 3, 2016), we did not include Andrés Jaque's highly-praised "Superpowers of Ten" performance on this list.