From ArchDaily to Treehugger, a virtual wonderland of websites devoted to architecture, design, and urbanism are piling gigabytes of information atop that generated by publications like architectural record, which also command a significant online presence. Much good has come from this World Wide Web–based cornucopia, even if its abundance does feel overwhelming. Contemporary architecture is vibrant. Globalization has, paradoxically, engendered an unprecedented sensitivity to locality and place, a widespread commitment to buttressing the distinctiveness of societies and cultures, and a salutary blurring of the boundaries among architecture, urbanism, and landscape design.
Much has been gained. But the dispersion and immensity of this polyphonic virtual arena has vanquished the large-scale, synthetic essays that once framed a common discourse on architecture and urbanism. Critical visions are an endangered species. That matters because only they galvanize the kind of debate that challenges practitioners to sharpen or push their ideas, even to change their minds.
One forum that might fill this void is the architecture exposition, where shape-shifting global practitioners congregate. Such events, if properly curated, can nudge architects into reflecting their own ideas through the prism of their colleagues’ visions and accomplishments. Few recent expositions (including those in Venice) have made good on that potential. This makes the inaugural edition of the Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB), which runs until January 2016, that much more exciting.