In his book We Have Never Been Modern, philosopher Bruno Latour concludes that an inability to make humanity and nature inherently separate is one of Modernism’s most misguided tropes. Thus, contemporary designers that hope to riff on or have continuity with modernism must understand that architecture, even at its most aestheticized, is not hermetically sealed off from the outside world - and that therefore modernism is not a plateau of design, but another base camp on the road to further refinement.
In Chicago, the city where Modernism reached both its metaphoric and physical peak, Atelier 2B, a team of Yewon Ji, Nicolas Lee, Ryan Otterson, recently shared the top-five prize of the Chicago Architecture Foundation's ChiDesign Competition (part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial) for their project Soft in the Middle: The Collaborative Core. Indebted to the legacy of Mies and the International Style, Atelier 2B proposed a Modernist-tower-redux that (externally at least) is composed of three stacked rectangular volumes bisected with terraces, set back from the street by a large public plaza. The project brief called for “a new center for architecture, design and education,” in a competition judged by critics including Stanley Tigerman, David Adjaye, Ned Cramer, Monica Ponce de Leon, and Billie Tsien.