With its local scene gaining momentum, the Chicago Architecture Biennial is threatening to steal some of the Venice Biennale’s thunder. (Please don’t give me concrete shoes!) One of the most exciting things in Chicago — and part of what is fueling the momentum of the Biennial — is the schools there. They have a complex history, as the skyscraper was born in Chicago, and Mies and Tigerman famously had a productive back-and-forth for many years at IIT and UIC respectively. Today, Chicago’s schools are thriving under strong leadership that has attracted some of the top design talent in the United States and the world.

The Biennial will be a one-stop shop to see the very best that the Windy City has to offer. In conjunction with the previously announced design competition, three teams have been commissioned to build kiosks on the Chicago lakefront. Each is comprised of one school and one design team. They are Indie Architecture and Paul Preissner Architects in collaboration with University of Illinois at Chicago, Pezo von Ellrichshausen working with the Illinois Institute of Technology, and NLÉ Works in tandem with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).

Indie Architecture and Paul Preissner Architects with University of Illinois at Chicago
UIC’s Robert Somol and a host of young talent continues the tradition of the Chicago legacy, carving out their own color-saturated cartoon niche and some of the most exciting work in the design world. A pair of these young designers, Paul Andersen (Indie Architecture) and Paul Preissner, exercise a kind of narrative formalism that should be perfect for a kiosk. Look no further than Andersen’s Gum Bubble, a glass dome supported by columns that look like chewing gum stretching upwards, visually inverting the logic of gravity and the compression forces within the column.

Pezo von Ellrichshausen with Illinois Institute of Technology
Normally, we would guess that IIT would give us some thing tastefully nondescript. However, the contextual sensitivity of director Wiel Arets and the perverted formalism of the tragically beautiful works of Pezo von Ellrichshausen should produce something that will stand up quite nicely with the other two kiosks. There is a sense of subtle irony in both parties’ work, which should shine through, even if at first glance it appears rigid and constrained. PVE are visiting professors at IIT.

NLÉ Works with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)
SAIC is transitioning under the new direction of Jonathan Solomon, and their partnership with NLÉ Works points to a commitment to the social complexities of the city as a starting point for an architectural project. NLE is best known for their Makoko Floating School, a mobile school-boat that can travel around the floating slum of Makoko in Lagos, Nigeria, educating the population. This kiosk will be one to watch, as it will likely incorporate new economic or organizational models that involve the communities in Chicago. (It also might float.)

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