Emphasizing fresh faces and ideas instead of star architects and their familiar styles, organizers of the fledgling Chicago Architecture Biennial on Tuesday announced their first list of participating architects and artists as well as a $1 million gift from Racine, Wis.-based SC Johnson.
The 63 participants in the upstart exhibition, which has the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and is billed as North America’s largest international survey of contemporary architecture, come from more than 30 countries on six continents. Ten have offices in Chicago.
They include architects whose designs range from a luxury Mexican house made up of pentagon-shaped pavilions to the painting of abandoned houses in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood in such colors as “Currency Exchange Yellow.” Some, like Chicago’s Jeanne Gang and the Danish firm BIG, already are well-known. Others have built little but have big ideas.
“We want to challenge and expand who people identify as voices who are leading the future of architecture,” said Sarah Herda, the biennial’s co-curator and director of the Chicago-based Graham Foundation. “Important ideas about architecture come from a lot of different places and people. We want the biennial to be a platform to explore that.”
Scheduled to open to the public on Oct. 3 and to run through Jan. 3, the event aims to challenge the established, prestigious Venice architecture biennial, building on Chicago’s identity as the birthplace of modern architecture. It also aims to boost tourism — a key goal of Emanuel’s.
“What better city to host this discussion,” the mayor said at Tuesday’s announcement, held beneath the Tiffany dome of the Chicago Cultural Center. Addressing architecture’s role in shaping public spaces, he said the biennial would explore ways “to bring us together rather than tear us apart.”
The exhibition and several coinciding events — including an Art Institute of Chicago show on the London-based architect David Adjaye and the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s popular Open House program, which offers interior tours of Chicago buildings — promise visitors a panoply of scale models, digital renderings, photos, panel discussions, lectures and films.
There are also likely to be sideshow challenges to the biennial’s emphasis on modernism, including an October symposium that includes traditionalist architects Thomas Beeby and Stuart Cohen, members of the “Chicago Seven” architects who challenged the city’s modernist orthodoxy in the 1970s.
“What we’re trying to do is solidify Chicago’s position not just as the shrine to modernism, but as the place where new ideas are debated and explored,” said Michelle Boone, commissioner of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the agency working with the Graham Foundation on the biennial.
The event, titled “The State of the Art of Architecture,” has a budget of roughly $6.5 million, according to Boone, who said SC Johnson’s $1 million gift brings the amount of money raised close to $4 million. British oil and gas giant BP previously made a $2.5 million grant.
The event now has more than 60 partner organizations, including universities, museums and architecture groups, its organizers said. Plans call for the biennial to be held every two years.
For the inaugural show, Boone said, SC Johnson will offer shuttle bus service to its Racine campus, which includes the renowned, Frank Lloyd Wright-designed administration building and research tower.
At Tuesday’s announcement, Fisk Johnson, SC Johnson’s chairman, recalled how his grandfather, Herbert F. “Hib” Johnson, was furious that Wright’s work for the administration building ran way over budget. Wright’s response, Johnson said, was to tell his grandfather that he should consider himself privileged to be paying for such a work of art. And Wright predicted—correctly—that, someday, people from around the world would come to see it.
The Cultural Center at 78 E. Washington St. will serve as the exhibition’s central site.
Wrigley video board balances digital present, ballpark’s past
Wrigley video board balances digital present, ballpark’s past
Other venues include 72 E. Randolph St., where several Chicago-based architects will offer alternative visions for the city; the City Gallery inside the historic Water Tower at 806 N. Michigan Ave.; and the Stony Island Arts Bank, a neoclassical former bank building at East 68th Street and South Stony Island Avenue. The building, transformed into a cultural hub by Chicago artist Theaster Gates, is scheduled to reopen as part of the biennial.
Herda said the participants were culled from a list of some 500 architects and were chosen on the basis of whether they are pushing the limits of, or redefining, the field.
Her co-curator, Joseph Grima, offered a quick review of projects by some of the participants, among them a London gas station transformed into a temporary movie theater by the London firm Assemble, and surgical clinic and health center in the West African country of Burkina Faso by the Berlin firm Kere Architecture. The relatively small-scale and social orientation of the projects were in stark contrast to the trophy skyscrapers built in recent years in countries like Dubai and China.
Herda said the biennial is likely to explore a variety of themes, including the uses of public space, new construction techniques, and how homes, even in former housing projects, can provide “luxury for all.”
Depending on available space, an additional 30 to 50 participants are likely to be added to the show, she said. Such leading architects as Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid also could be involved. “These are such important voices in the field. We want to engage them as well,” Herda said.
Also appearing at Tuesday’s news conference were Gang, who on Monday night unveiled revised plans for her Wanda Vista hotel and condominium tower on East Wacker Drive; Mexico City architect Tatiana Bilbao, who has won acclaim for projects including the Mexican house consisting of pentagon-shaped pavilions and has designed a house that can be built for around $8,000; and Chicago artist and architect Amanda Williams, who has painted South Side houses slated for demolition in bright colors to express the value of their neighborhoods.