Newcity gets to know the 2021 Chicago Architecture Biennial contributors. This segment highlights The Open Workshop, a multidisciplinary design workshop focused on critically re-examining the concept of open work, first posited by Umberto Eco in 1962, that refers to the artist’s decision to leave arrangements of some constituents of a work to the public or to chance. Embracing this “openness” the Toronto-based studio pushes the boundaries of design research, ensures the continuous evolution of their architecture and urban design practices and blurs the lines between the environmental, the political, the economic and the social. Neeraj Bhatia, architect, urban designer and founder of The Open Workshop, shares his insights.
In what ways has your background prepared you and how will it inform your role at the upcoming Chicago Architecture Biennial?
Our work examines Collective Form—which encompasses both the form of the collective and the forums that they produce. We see architecture as a catalyst for bringing together the collective and recognizing common goals. The theme of The Available City aligns with our broader interests in how communities gain agency over the spaces and world around them.
Can you talk about the importance of a festival like CAB amid a pandemic and a time of social and political unrest?
While the pandemic has amplified political and social issues, these issues were already present. This is to say, the structural scenarios behind the social and political unrest are tied to deeper issues such as changes in labor and the home, increasing pluralism around the globe, and growing inequality. By amplifying the issues, the pandemic has exposed not just these issues, but also how architecture is often complicit in naturalizing them; making them acceptable. The CAB is critical for exposing these issues—making them legible through design—so we can react as a collective.
What are you hoping the viewers will take away from this exhibition?
We hope that viewers will take away a sentiment that the design of the world is a work in progress and that they have agency in crafting a new way of living.
What are you most excited about moving forward?
We are excited to learn more about Chicago’s communities and work with them toward building a new commons.
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