With the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial in full swing and open to the public until January 7, 2017, we've scoured the galleries, halls and corridors of the Chicago Cultural Center to bring you our favorite fifteen installations. Documented through the lens of Laurian Ghinitoiu and assembled by our Editorial Team on location, this selection intends to shed light on the breadth, scope and preoccupations of Make New History – the largest architecture event in North America.
Metropolitana / Piovene Fabi with Giovanna Silva
During the 1950s and 60s, Piovene Fabi and Giovanna Silva claim, in Italy “everything was possible. [...] The future was there.” The scene allowed the cultural avant-garde of the moment to find commissions with large institutions and companies and, in return, to “define a new manifesto of modernity.” Inspired by one of the key infrastructural projects of the time, the Milanese Metro, the designers have developed a collection of furniture pieces which extract the colour, style, and symbology of the subway into a series of recomposed standalone elements.
For Athens-based practice Point Supreme, led by Konstantinos Pantazis and Marianna Rentzou, the focus is on materials and materiality. Three totems, described by the designers as “vertical lists of things,” stand as statements about accumulation and collecting. The samples that comprise them range from natural and handmade, new and reclaimed, designed or accidental, and whole or modular. The result are three agglomerations of elements which “correspond to precise pieces of the world"; in this case, an “alternative representation of the house.”
The Art Deco Building / WORKac with photographs by James Ewing
In New York-based practice WORKac’s installation, designed by Amale Andraos and Dan Wood, Lebanon (and Beirut, in particular) takes center stage. “Historic preservation is often couched within seemingly benign alibis such as the preservation of identity, heritage, or cultural specificity,” the practice claim. Following the fifteen year-long civil war in Lebanon, this reality became self-evident. The installation, which is focused on a 1930s art deco villa, “reflects on historic preservation’s potentials and pitfalls.”
Constructions and References / Caruso St. John with Thomas Demand and Hélène Binet
The three Chicago Galleries on the second floor of the Cultural Center are grand, cubic spaces, and the most dramatic of these has been outfitted by British-Swiss practice Caruso St. John, in collaboration with world-renowned photographers Thomas Demand and Hélène Binet. Five large models represent projects completed and under construction by the practice, assembled together and “stripped of their contexts, removed from place and politics.” The space around the models, which they describe as a “stage”, is enclosed by a tall ‘curtain’ which is, in fact, wallpaper designed by Demand. The shifts between two modes of representation—model and photography, and two and three dimensions—deftly highlights the space between them.
Material Connections: Writers Theatre / Studio Gang
Chicago-based practice Studio Gang, led by Jeanne Gang, have developed a strong body of public works in which understanding, exposing, and instigating community is often central. In the Chicago Galleries of the Cultural Center, they have installed a structural section of their Writers Theatre in Glencoe, Illinois – a wooden element that is not only beautifully crafted but that allows the Theater to be open to an adjacent park, extending the energy of its social and cultural activities into the wider public realm.
Finite Format 04 / Pezo von Ellrichshausen
Seen from a distance, the work of Pezo von Ellrichshausen appears as an evolution of multiples. Structures, rooms, and openings remain a constant in their work, and different configurations have become the spine of their practice. (This theme has been revisited recently in Venice.) Here, the Chilean practice takes the end wall of the Chicago Galleries—although it wraps around to a second surface—to display an obsessive iterative presentation of 729 watercolors: dramatic, insightful, and quietly spectacular.
Parking & More / HHF Architects
Located on the ground floor of the Chicago Cultural Center, Basel-based HHF’s installation is an homage and a speculation to the parking garage. Citing Bernard Rudofsky’s 1964 criticism of the “narrow focus of architectural history,” which “suppresses the non-representative,” HHF present their proposal for Dreispitz – a 50-hectare logistics zone south of the home city: “an open structure for an open future.” By infusing the anonymous historical infrastructure of the area into their scheme, they are attempting to suggest an entirely new way of approaching existing built environments.
The Chapel / junya ishigami+associates
One of a select few standalone models in the Biennial, and in keeping with his oeuvre of sculptural, minimalist works, Ishigami’s proposal for a chapel uses a deceptively simple concept to create a dramatic architectural space. Shaped by the form of a valley located in China’s Shangdong Province, two 45 meter-tall white walls enclose a narrow, soaring space, amplifying the natural characteristics of the valley. At one end, the two tall walls connect to enclose the chapel space; from a distance, the chapel appears as a dramatic piece of the landscape, a new, artificial “slender mountain” resting in the center of the natural valley. Presented totally in white, and standing above eye level, a very real sense of the dramatic thought processes behind the bold design of this sacred space are conveyed.
Make Big Plans / MONADNOCK
Daniel Burnham, the influential Chicago architect who directed the 1893 World Columbian Exposition, famously said in 1907: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized.” Burnham followed with, “Make big plans,” a mantra that Rotterdam-based office Monadnock has emblazoned Hollywood-style onto a pink scaffolding on the fourth floor of the Chicago Cultural Center. Harkening back to their installation Make No Little Plans in the Netherlands, Monadnock “comes home” with this project: the practice name is synonymous with Burnham and Root’s Monadnock building, the tallest load-bearing brick building ever built and brick has been one of Monadnock’s favored materials in their own projects (see Landmark Nieuw Bergen).
Super Models / Sylvia Lavin with Erin Besler, Jessica Colangelo and Norman Kelly
Located on the fourth floor of the Cultural Center, Super Models—presented in parallel to Exhibition Models, which is currently on display at Princeton University School of Architecture, for which it is connected to be video uplink—features twelve replica models collected by the Deutsche Architekturmuseum (DAM) in the 1980s. Housed in a structure (also a replica) designed by O. M. Ungers, the installation seeks to expose and examine the “assumption that museums only knowingly show original works of art;” in fact, the participants argue, “models commissioned to replicate buildings have long been part of the culture of architectural exhibitions.”
(Study for) Chapel for Scenes of Public Life – The Meeting of Enrico Mattei and the Queen of Sheba / baukuh and Stefano Graziani
Despite its overtly purple and comparatively inaccessible title, The Chapel for Scenes of Public Life by Milanese practice Baukuh and photographer Stefano Graziani represents an interesting exploration of what “public” means for architects and architecture. Designed to accommodate an imaginary festive event—the meeting of Enrico Mattei (a deceased Italian politician and businessman) and the Queen of Sheba—and inspired by a number of cultural references, including that of Piero della Francesca’s, the inner lining of the wooden structure presents a cycle of drawings that speak of and refer to an event that never took place.
Five Rooms / Paul Andersen and Paul Preissner
A key ambition behind this iteration of the Chicago Architecture Biennial has been to inhabit the circulation spaces of the Cultural Center. Five Rooms forges a sequence of galleries in a corridor which is, in the words of Andersen and Preissner, “too wide to be a hallway and too narrow to comfortably view exhibitions.” Five deep, heavy walls clad in glazed tiles constitute a material move that feels at home in the Windy City and even more so in relation to the pieces that inhabit them – a series of exceptional pieces by photographers David Shalliol and Scott Fortino. These monumental totems represent the most intelligent attempt to interact with the civic, municipal space that the Biennial occupies.
Tropical Canonical: The Order of Ambiguity / AGENdA - agencia de arquitectura
In the same way that Five Rooms satisfied a key ambition behind this iteration of the Chicago Architecture Biennial to inhabit the circulation spaces of the Cultural Center, Tropical Canonical performs a similar role and with similar spatial success. AGENdA, based in Medellín, argue that Colombia “is trapped in a narrow definition of its architectural history and a very incomplete idea of its identity,” making it difficult for practitioners to position themselves. In response, they have proposed an alternative way of looking at and thinking about history; to see it less as a coherent, linear narrative and more as “a systematic adaptation of canons, process, or materials.” Their fabric wall, or curtain, is a “distorted, modified, and adapted” version of a Curtain Wall glazing system. A “beautiful contradiction” lies in its “inverted logic,” they argue.
Cosmic Latte: Beige Manifesto / J. MAYER H. und Partner Architekten and Philip Ursprung
“The universe is beige,” explain the creators of “Cosmic Latte.” The installation, which was named after the color of the universe (as prescribed by astronomers), explores the roots, meanings and expression of “beige-ness”. Is this a “moderating and popular” color? Or is it the color of violence – the hue of powdery rubble left in the wake of violence and warfare? And if we see beige as boring, J. MAYER H. und Partner Architekten and Philip Ursprung (Chair for the History of Art and Architecture at ETH Zurich) invite us to consider how this charged color is taking on a broader, global architectural meaning.
Personal Histories / 51N4E
Brussels-based practice 51N41, led by Johan Anrys and Freek Persyn, attempts to reveal architecture as a transformative process that “generates a productive fiction”. Located in the Dance Studio—a darkened room on the ground floor of the Chicago Cultural Center—the installation is composed of films by contemporary artists and a constellation of symbolic objects relating to two projects of different scales, the larger of which being Skanderbeg Square (Tirana, 2012). Travel, by David Clauerbout, is a particularly rich audio-visual of close encounters with natural environments and artificial woodland paths, suggesting that our collective understanding of what constitutes the built environment is more pervasive than we might at first imagine.
As the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial prepares to open its doors, curators Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee ( Johnston Marklee) introduce Make New History - the theme of the second edition of North America's largest architecture and design exhibition. Understanding the trace of history is more important than ever.
In "Vertical City," 16 Contemporary Architects Reinterpret the Tribune Tower at 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial
In a large-scale, central installation at the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial, the likes of 6a architects, Barozzi Veiga, Kéré Architecture, MOS, OFFICE KGDVS, and Sergison Bates-among others-have designed and constructed sixteen five meter-tall contemporary iterations of the renowned 1922 Chicago Tribune Tower design contest. + 55 Located in the Sidney R.