Her Own Woman: Anna Fong Designs “Important Clothes for Important People”

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Fong_AileenBy Kelly Reaves

Anna Fong’s timeless and sophisticated, yet hip, clothing has earned her a reputation as a world-class designer. But Chicago is her city.

The homegrown Columbia College alumna got into fashion as a kid, playing with dolls and making their clothes out of socks. In high school, her creative ambition was fueled by the extracurricular art programs provided by Gallery 37, one of Maggie Daley’s legacies. Based in the Loop, it still offers all sorts of free arts programs for city kids.

Over the twentyish years since then, she’s fully honed her taste and craft into ensembles resembling what Jessica Rabbit might wear if she had become the First Lady. Fong draws her inspiration from the 1940s and 1980s, respectively, as well as frequent travel (she has plans to travel to Cuba, Thailand and Guatemala this year) and music. She gets pumped for the day by driving down Lake Shore Drive as the sun rises, listening to Florence & the Machine with the wind in her hair. Also, as so many artists before, she draws inspiration from nature. Particularly flowers.

“But I can’t get myself to use a floral print…right now,” she says. “So, for example, the curved slit [I use] came from the calla lily. I love the subtle curve that the hemline gives. Your eye can follow that curve effortlessly.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Chicago Architecture Biennial Issue

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Cover by Fletcher Martin

Cover by Fletcher Martin

“We shall leave, for remembrance, one rusty iron heart.”
—Nelson Algren, “City on the Make”

What’s rattling around that rusty heart some fifty years hence Algren’s lovingly caustic sendoff? For some, a boomtown of glass-sheathed skyscraping ambition and beautifully manicured space. For others, a city on the brink, potholed with equal parts resilience and resilient decay.

Maybe not so much has changed. Maybe this bifurcated nature—what Algren called the “Janus-faced city” and what might today just be called a condition of “the Global City”—has always been an elemental part of the city’s framework. From the Gilded Age splendor of Prairie Avenue hulking over Jane Addams masses, to Operation Breadbasket pushing up against Gold Coast shores, it’s a city aggressively unsure of how sure a place it is.

These multitudes play out in the city’s streets everyday, where the design of the city’s buildings, parks, transportation networks and policies all inform the way we go about our daily lives. It’s design that makes Chicago, and Chicago, long home to the most transcendent of American design moments and movements, makes design.
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The State of the Art of Architecture: 2015 vs. 1977

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A scene captured from the original Graham Foundation 'mosh pit' in 1977. Left to right: Robert Stern, Richard Meier, Jim Nagle, Peter Eisenman, Stanley Tigerman, Bill Turnbull, Jim Sterling and Ben Weese/Photo courtesy of Graham Foundation Photo courtesy of Graham Foundation

A scene captured from the original Graham Foundation ‘mosh pit’ in 1977. Left to right: L-R: Helmut Jahn, Stuart Cohen, Craig Hodgetts, Michael Graves, Frank Gehry, Jim Freed, Tom Beebe, Larry Booth and Charles Jencks/Photo courtesy of Graham Foundation

By Stanley Tigerman, FAIA, RAAR, FSAH

Thirty-eight years may be a bit less than a generation and a half, but in architecture and the revolutionary changes that have occurred in the space between 1977 and 2015, it seems like several lifetimes.  Computer technology generally, 3-D printing specifically, super-tall towers, super-teeny apartments, gigantic carbon footprints and last but not least, dumbed-down professional diminishment via marketing, branding and value-engineering represent massive change to an art form that was once aesthetically, even ethically, driven.

At the 1977 “State of the Art of Architecture” Graham Foundation “mosh pit,” the all-white male panelists were from the United States (the “whites,” “the grays,” “the silvers” and the Chicago Seven); with kibitzers from abroad (Jencks & Stirling).  The average age was mid-forties and most had already built—modestly to be sure—and whatever ideas that were expressed were grounded in form, structure and/or construction, i.e., intrinsically architectural issues.  The excitement generated from the proceedings came about through the built work itself and the enthusiastic ideas underpinning them which were then presented to one’s colleagues.

The 2015 Chicago Biennial is nothing if not global: five continents are represented with less than one-third from the United States. The average age is mid-thirties to mid-forties and one-third of the invitees are women. The overarching point of commonality is grounded in “idea content” with the concerns of the day front and center: global warming, robotics, process-as-distinct-from product, and (amazingly) drawing-qua-drawing. A greater percentage of the 2015 class teach full time a bit more than the 1977 crowd and more than a few challenge architectural conventions (registration, professional society membership), which is to say that new ways of bringing ideas to fruition in the form of inhabitation abound. Time will tell if pure architectural ideation will find its way into built form without losing its zest.

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Stony Island Arts Bank: Theaster Gates Opens a Repository for Cultural Assets of the Black Community

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Stony Island Arts Bank Tom Harris © Hedrich Blessing, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation

Stony Island Arts Bank/Photo: Tom Harris-Hedrich Blessing, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation

By Aaron Rose

The work of Theaster Gates in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood stands as a series of bold community-based experiments that weave together art, architecture and urban development, illustrating how the three co-mingle to effect change. His meticulously conceived and crafted projects, including the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative, Black Cinema House and Dorchester Projects—created with sweat equity and repurposed raw materials—have reclaimed property and cultural value from decades of disinvestment and abandonment.

The Stony Island Arts Bank building, at 68th Street and Stony Island Avenue, while in this tradition, represents a huge leap forward in scale and ambition for the South Side artist and urban planner, and for his Rebuild Foundation, the non-profit organization Gates established in 2010 to staff and support his work. Designed by William Gibbons Uffendell and constructed in 1923, the former Stony Island Trust & Savings Bank had been vacant and languishing in disrepair since the 1980s. Gates purchased the building for $1 from the City of Chicago in 2012 to save it from demolition. As reported by Melissa Harris in a recent Chicago Tribune story, all of the people who understand his aspirations cautioned Gates to walk away from the building.

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“Wow!” Interpreting the Language of Architecture with Ania Jaworska

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By Gregory Maher

Ania Jaworska explores architecture through the conversations that surround it. For example, take those scribblings tacked to the wall of the architect’s studio, and Jaworska conceptualizes these elements in prints, designs, sculptures and models to show that the art of architecture is an important—and humorous—tool to study human and community interaction.

Jaworska grew up in the stable, historic community of Stary Sacz in Poland. The town never grew beyond its natural boundaries of two rivers and a mountain. Jaworska describes it as a place where “nothing major will happen.” The town revolves around its history, and so began her fascination with architecture and community. When Jaworska later moved to Krakow to study architecture at the Cracow University of Technology, she also felt a sense of the present looking backwards. Architecture was taught and practiced under a profusion of rules, guidelines grown from a need to protect the historic identity of the city. It was, she explains, “somewhat limiting.” Read the rest of this entry »

Man on the Lake: Paul Preissner’s Lakefront Kiosk

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By Krisann K. Rehbein

A legacy project of the Chicago Architecture Biennial is the unveiling of four new designs for lakefront kiosks. The kiosk designs were selected through a manifold process: a “winning project” sourced through an international competition, and three others designed through collaborations between local architecture programs and internationally renowned architects. All four entries will be displayed in Millennium Park during the biennial and be installed on the lakefront in the spring of 2016.

It is good to know that some hometown talent will be on display as part of this program. Architect Paul Preissner, in collaboration with Denver-based Paul Andersen of Independent Architecture, submitted one of the final kiosk designs. The duo previously collaborated on an award-winning project for the Biennial of the Americas in Denver.

Their kiosk, “Summer Vault,” is in Preissner’s words, “a retail dot on the lake landscape.” Rather than focus exclusively on commerce, the “Pauls” wanted to create a great public park project—something participatory and egalitarian, more like a pagoda or pavilion than just a store. Inside, the space is bisected on a diagonal, creating two triangular spaces of ninety-square-feet each, so equal space is allotted to the retail function and the public space.

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Fields of Color: Amanda Williams Brightens the South Side

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By Nick Cecchi

Amanda Williams is one of the leading voices in Chicago art and architecture. Trained as an architect at Cornell, Williams has embraced the interstice between art, architecture and design in her professional practice, bridging the divide between the city’s cultural and civic institutions with Chicago’s historically isolated South Side neighborhoods as her canvas.

Williams’ body of work spans from the purely artistic to the architectural, urban and sociological spheres, establishing her as one of the preeminent interdisciplinary practitioners of socially aware art and design in the city. Her oeuvre includes paintings, abstract maps, exhibition design and installation, and the work she has been most recognized for recently, the “Color(ed) Theory” series. These artistic urban interventions paint blighted homes slated for demolition on the South Side of Chicago in bright hues to activate vacant and unused blocks and interrogate their history and meaning within our shared cultural milieu. Read the rest of this entry »

The Transformative Power of David Adjaye: Making Place in Chicago

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Moscow School of Management, Skolkovo, Russia, 2010./Photo: Ed Reeve, courtesy of Adjaye Associates.

Moscow School of Management, Skolkovo, Russia, 2010./Photo: Ed Reeve, courtesy of Adjaye Associates.

By Aaron Rose

“Making Place: the Architecture of David Adjaye” is the title of the mid-career survey of the work of Tanzanian-born, internationally renowned architect David Adjaye. The exhibit, on view at the Art Institute of Chicago during the Chicago Architecture Biennial, reveals Adjaye’s strikingly original work—buildings that differ radically from one another except for the shared characteristics of graceful simplicity and seamless weaving with the surrounding urban fabric—but is also about much more than just buildings.

This first U.S. survey of Adjaye’s work, co-curated by Zoë Ryan, Chair and John H. Bryan Curator of Architecture and Design at the Art Institute, and Okwui Enwezor,  director of the Munich-based Haus der Kunst museum, engages the viewer in an exploration true to Adjaye’s guiding, global vision: that architecture has the potential to transform reality. Three years in the making, the exhibition was designed by Adjaye Associates and features models, drawings, sketches, film, furniture and installations.

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Shaping Spaces and Building Structures: Barbara Kasten at the Graham Foundation

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Figure_in_Chair_8_HIBy Jessica Barrett Sattell

The “Stages” of Barbara Kasten could mean two things: the preparation that goes into the Chicago-­based multimedia artist’s extensive research in making her work, or, in the sense of how, through creating that work, one thread leads to another in sequences of endless explorations that test the boundaries of temporality.

The Graham Foundation’s comprehensive exhibition in conjunction with the Chicago Architectural Biennial presents five decades of Kasten’s practice across photography, textiles, sculpture, installation and architecture. While it may span a wide range of years, it’s definitely more of a major survey than a comprehensive retrospective. Loosely gathering Kasten’s work from the 1970s until today proposes differences in form but similarities in themes, and it’s enthralling to witness not just the progression of how the scale of her work expands from the studio into the outside world, but how that perspective keeps enlarging itself, still.

Organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania and curated by the ICA’s Alex Klein, the result is a homecoming that features installations especially considered for the Madlener House across three floors: an introduction to the scale and breadth of her work that establishes key patterns, a more tightly-­knit collection of specific projects and series, and a special site­-specific piece created especially for the building’s top­-floor ballroom. Kasten worked closely on the Chicago iteration of the show, allowing the organizers full access to her print and video archives, including sketchbooks, process diagrams, theater set and costume designs, advertising work and more, many of which are on display in the Graham’s library.

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Biennial Beat: The City’s Architectural Insiders Share Their Biennial Picks

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One of the pavilions/Photo: ultramoderne

One of the pavilions/Photo: ultramoderne

By Philip Berger

The organizers of  the Chicago Architecture Biennial have clearly followed Daniel Burnham’s directive to “make no small plans.” This is a really big deal.

Offering several months of exhibits, installations, panel discussions, workshops, lectures, tours, performances and other happenings, this first-ever North American architecture biennial aims to cement Chicago’s place as a world capital of architecture, not simply a repository of history but a city of continued innovation and limitless possibility.

The biennial’s schedule of programs is truly overwhelming, particularly in its opening weekend, October 1-4. With so many offerings—and just about every one of them fascinating—we talked to some of the city’s architectural insiders and biennial presenters to find out more about what programs aren’t to be missed, and about their individual contributions to the biennial program.

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