North America’s first global look at contemporary architecture is, fittingly, happening in Chicago this month: From the first skyscraper on, the metropolis has led the country in how we think about, build, and live in cities.
Free and open to the public from October 3 to January 3, 2016, the premiere Chicago Architectural Biennial (CAB) celebrates this history, and brings together more than 100 theorists and practitioners from 30-plus countries in a raucous, speculative look forward. Here’s your 10-point cheat sheet on how best to experience it.
1. BEGIN AT THE CHICAGO CULTURAL CENTER.
Across the street from the once-derelict Millennium Park, now home to the beloved gleaming creations Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (aka, "The Bean") and Frank Gehry’s Pritzker Pavilion, theChicago Cultural Center is CAB’s home base. Built in 1897, the Beaux-Arts structure was once the city’s central library. Now it’s entirely turned over to biennial exhibitions and programs.
2. SEE ARACHNID ARCHITECTURE.
Much of CAB’s wall space (and ethos) is devoted to speculation and theory. It’s less building plans than potential. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in a darkened gallery on the first floor, in which Berlin-based, Argentina-born sculptor Tomás Saraceno "collaborated" with several spiders, letting the insects build webs that he's dramatically illuminated.
3. STUDY THE POLICE.
Though prison architecture has been well-documented over the decades, CAB includes a telling (and timely) history of the neighborhood police station. Initiated by the Chicago-based Studio Gang, the "Polis Station" exhibit shows how cops' workplaces have evolved from the watch box—a phone-booth-size hutch in colonial towns used by members of the neighborhood to keep the peace—to mid-20th-century fortresses. The goal of the artists was to create "an urban proposal for rebuilding trust between police officers and citizens."
4. DISCOVER 'FLAMIN’ HOT CHEETOS.'
That’s the color of the walls in Amanda Williams’s Color(ed) Theory exhibit. In search of the palette of poverty, the Chicago-based architect and artist went to low-income neighborhoods in the South Side and painted abandoned houses in hues of products often found in African-American communities. For instance, Williams recreated the near-florescent orange of the aforementioned snack, and painted a house the unmistakable teal of Newport cigarette packs.
5. LOOK FOR THE ROCK STAR.
Upstairs at the Chicago Cultural Center, be sure to check out the Rock Print,a giant pillar made out of gumball-sized rocks. It was constructed by a robot and held together by a single piece of string. Engineered by Gramazio Kohler Research and the Self-Assembly Lab, this potentially game-changing use of materials can support three tons, but will collapse if you pull the thread.
6. WHEN IN DOUBT, CHECK IN AT A KIOSK.
Chicago, of course, is defined by the massive lake that it sits upon, and the 20 miles of public parkland and beaches. Currently, the Chicago Park District supervises more than 40 kiosks that tout food, goods, and recreational services during the summer months. In partnership with the city and the Chicago Park District, CAB held a contest for the design of new kiosks to be placed at the edge of Lake Michigan. The best of 420 designs are being exhibited throughout the city, and the top four will be permanently installed in the spring of 2016
7. GO TO THE BANK.
Artist and social activist Theaster Gates launches another large-scale project in his hometown, the Stony Island Arts Bank, which is a new art and cultural exhibition venue in Chicago's South Side. Gates directed the refurbishment of a 1923 bank (abandoned since the ‘80s) with the help of the Rebuild Foundation. Like Gates’s other projects—which stretch from Miami to Kassel, Germany—the Stony Island Arts Bank will use contemporary art to foster a sense of identity and place in the surrounding neighborhood.
8. SEE A SOLAR SEA.
Head across town to the Garfield Park Conservatory to see Solarise, a site-specific installation by the pair of Chicago artists, Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero, known as Luftwerk. Five dynamic, immersive installations reflect the setting and the nature within. One of the most spectacular pieces is a kaleidoscope network of blue and red petals hanging from the ceiling of the conservatory's historic glass-roofed greenhouse.
9. PAY YOUR RESPECTS TO BARBARA KASTEN...
Chicago native artist Barbara Kasten finally gets a retrospective as a part of the biennial. Kasten's show at the Graham Foundation, entitled "Stages," showcases work from her five-decade career as a painter and textile artist engaged with architectural form. Don’t miss Kasten's new site-specific video installation in the Graham Foundation’s Madlener House ballroom.
10. ...AND STARCHITECT DAVID ADJAYE.
"Making Place: The Architecture of David Adjaye" reviews more than 50 projects that the African-born "starchitect" has completed over the globe. Eschewing a signature style, Adjaye instead responds to the social and urban conditions of each building site. This is the very first full museum survey devoted to Adjaye, who promises to be one of the key architects of this century.