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5 Projects at the Chicago Biennial that Demonstrate the State of the Art of Sustainability

At the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the theme selected by directors Joseph Grima and Sarah Herda was deliberately wide in scope, with the expectation that more than one hundred exhibitors would each bring their own perspective on what is “The State of the Art of Architecture.” But where does that leave one of architecture's most widely adopted missions of the 21st century: sustainability? In this article, originally published on her blog Architectstasy as “Chicago Architecture Biennial: The State of the Art of Sustainability,” Jessica A S Letaw delves into five projects that take on sustainability in the context of Chicago's biennial.

At North America's inaugural Architecture Biennial in Chicago, “The State of the Art of Architecture,” architectural firms and practices from all six inhabited continents have been invited to display their work. Spanning all sizes and kinds of projects, the Biennial is showcasing solutions to design problems from spiderwebs to social housing.

US buildings use around 40% of all the country’s energy consumption. It is a disconcerting truth that even if every new building starting construction tomorrow were to be net-zero energy and net-zero water, we’d still be on a crash course, draining more naturally-available resources than our one planet can permanently sustain. In this environment, architectural designers have a special responsibility to educate themselves about innovative sustainable design techniques, from those that have worked for thousands of years to those that, as the Biennial’s title hopefully suggests, are state of the art.

So what does the Biennial have to say about sustainability? Five projects on display demonstrate different approaches at five different scales: materials, buildings, resources, cities, and the globe.

2012 MoMA PS1 YAP Runner-Up: Virtual Water / UrbanLab + endrestudio + Method Design

Courtesy of UrbanLab
Courtesy of UrbanLab

ArchDaily announced the winning proposal for the 2012 MoMA PS1 Young Architects Program (YAP) earlier this month. In order to bring you full coverage of the annual competition, we are featuring the other four creative designs that competed against HWKN’s Wendy. Virtual Water, a collaborative design brought to you by UrbanLab, endrestudio and Method Design, formally manifests what is hidden in plain sight: RAIN. The project reveals and plays with thousands of gallons of summertime rainwater that would otherwise be discarded from the PS1 courtyard.

Virtual Water refers to water hidden in everyday products. A pair of jeans, for example, has a 3000 gallon Virtual Water footprint because 3000 gallons of water are consumed in the various steps of its production chain (growing the cotton, dyeing the fabric, etc).

Courtesy of UrbanLab Courtesy of UrbanLab Courtesy of UrbanLab Courtesy of UrbanLab