As the ideas and themes for the Chicago Architecture Biennial’s (CAB) much-anticipated third edition have take shape, more than ever, the city’s growing role in the global architectural discourse comes into focus. “We used Chicago as a focal point for the larger dialogue,” artistic director Yesomi Umolu says. “Like many other established and emergent global metropolises, Chicago faces challenging urban conditions that require the reimagining of forms of exchange between human activity, technology and the natural world. By extension, owing to its physical geography, Chicago is a singular context in which to address climate and ecological concerns shared by many postindustrial societies,” she continues, taking into consideration the city’s history, one deeply informed by colonial expansion, mass migration, extraction economies and rapid industrialization, as well as its unique geographical position at the crossroads of the Great Plains and the Great Lakes.
“In examining the history of the city, and the role architecture and the built environment has played, we noticed land as a common denominator that connected to the economy and resources of the land embedded within the context of the city,” Umolu says. “Architecture at-large here is about preserving and managing human activity with technological advancements in relation to land. We also see this in the ways nature and access to nature are part of the urban plan of Chicago. In this thinking about learning and unlearning, several curatorial frames emerged as productive ways of thinking about Chicago but also mobilized us to think outside Chicago. This led us to research visits in São Paulo, Johannesburg and Vancouver. These curatorial frames and questions were expanded with our conversations with local thinkers and practitioners; finding common ground with other cities and practices. We sought to bring the meaningful work they are doing within Chicago to conversations beyond and to amplify trends taking place in other geographies and cultures,” she says, stressing the importance of putting global architectural histories into perspective.
Creating a space where aspects of architecture and the built environment can be made public, consulted and discussed, North America’s largest architecture and design exhibition has many stories to tell. Building upon a research-driven approach to historical and contemporary spatial conditions, the appropriately titled, “…and other such stories,” draws from the complexities and potentialities of Chicago to trace dialogues between practices and the questions they raise across global communities, cities, territories and ecologies, as Umolu says, as she discusses the key concepts for the Biennial. “Our approach has centered on expanding our understanding of the built environment, bringing in a wide range of practitioners and perspectives to explore different facets of how we organize society. Our four key areas of inquiry are: ‘No Land Beyond,’ which reflects on landscapes of belonging and sovereignty that challenge narrow definitions of land as property and commodity and draws inspiration from indigenous beliefs concerning the environment, nature and landscape that transcend property ownership; ‘Appearances and Erasures,’ that explores sites of memory and the politics of remembering or forgetting in contested spaces, considering monuments, memorials and societal histories; ‘Rights and Reclamations,’ which interprets spaces as a site of advocacy and civic participation; and ‘Common Ground,’ referring to a space that invites cultural producers to the Chicago Cultural Center to address the multiplicity of agents producing and shaping space both within and beyond the field of architecture.”
Through practices and projects that exist at the intersection of disciplines and include building, design, planning, visual art, policymaking, pedagogy, research and activism, those four points of reference serve to better understand both architecture as a practice, as well as the societies and environments we live in. “The artistic direction, for each bi-annual edition, lays out a unique vision that frames issues at the leading edge of the field,” says CAB executive director Todd Palmer. “We are thrilled that this year’s curatorial focus will open up the architectural conversation on key sociopolitical and environmental issues that shape our present reality and introduce new voices and perspectives,” he says. “Through the dialogue they catalyze, we expect this Biennial to inform a collectively imagined future.”
Reflecting urgencies across different spaces, geographies and communities, new thinking about architecture, urbanism, politics and spatial practice will inevitably emerge—Umolu and her co-curators, educator Sepake Angiama and Brazil-based architect and academic Paulo Tavares, who have been critically thinking and thoroughly investigating the city’s histories, landscapes and communities, are here to make this happen.
Chicago Architecture Biennial 2019: September 19, 2019-January 5, 2020.
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