Newcity gets to know the 2021 Chicago Architecture Biennial contributors. This segment highlights Outpost Office, a design practice based in Columbus, Ohio, that “seeks new public audiences through experimental creative production ranging from the serious to the absurd, often simultaneously.” Principals and co-founders of the award-winning studio, Ashley Bigham and Erik Herrmann, who also teach at the Knowlton School at Ohio State University, discuss their practice, the impact of CAB in the Midwest and beyond, as well as architecture and art as keys to fostering social and political dialogue.
In what ways has your background prepared you and how will it inform your role at the upcoming Chicago Architecture Biennial?
Outpost Office is a Midwest practice, but as individuals, we are relatively new to the region. Our arrival in the midwest roughly coincided with the first Chicago Architecture Biennial. We grow more enthusiastic about the event with each new iteration. While the event is international, CAB is an invaluable platform for Midwest practices; we’ve always been impressed with the work produced by our regional colleagues. We named our practice (Outpost Office) in acknowledgment that we don’t feel moored to any particular place. We grew up in the American South, worked on the East Coast, spent time living abroad and researched in Central Europe and Ukraine, and now run our practice in the Midwest. Our work thrives in engagement with new contexts and communities; we expect Chicago to be no different. We certainly have a lot to learn about Chicago throughout this process, but that’s why we’re so excited about the fourth edition of the Biennial. Artistic Director David Brown is placing a great emphasis on CAB contributors learning directly from the community in which we will be working.
Can you talk about the importance of a festival like CAB amid a pandemic and a time of social and political unrest?
Architecture and art are keys to fostering social and political dialogue. We are interested in creating architecture that brings people together—geographically and socially. Architecture is not only buildings; architecture is a social act. It extends beyond the building footprint and includes how we negotiate the use of our streets or public spaces; it’s an attitude toward the reuse of materials and overlooked places. Architecture encompasses so much of how we share (or do not share) our civic resources. Over the past year, this has become more clear, but for many, the world hasn’t changed; only more people have taken notice. Perhaps the next modest step is demonstrating the potential for new civic landscapes in Chicago’s available city.
What are you hoping the viewers will take away from this exhibition?
Our project uses a painting robot to define and shape public spaces. Influences include work from the fields of graphics, fashion, sports, computation and geometry. These topics certainly are not the first thing that comes to mind when people think about architecture. We are excited because anyone interested in these topics might come to understand how architecture relates to their lives and interests through this work. In other words, there are a lot of ways in.
What are you most excited about moving forward?
So much of what has connected us over the past year has been about maintaining busy, and hectic lives. We’re looking forward to making space in the city for a pause, especially for those who want to do nothing.
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