At the Chicago Architecture Biennial, everyday life takes precedence over the museum

At the Chicago Architecture Biennial, everyday life takes precedence over the museum

The MASS Design Group’s Gun Violence Memorial at the Chicago Cultural Center is one of the installations between commemoration and activism. (Image: & nbsp; Kendall McCaugherty & nbsp; / Chicago Architecture Biennial)

The most interesting is the biennial where the tensions and conflicts of the North American metropolis can actually be experienced: on the street and in the city.

The drive towards the south side of the city of Chicago along straight streets is revealing: orphaned plots alternate with the typical two- and three-story brick buildings, spacious green areas with concrete shopping centers. The rattling on the rusty route of the “L”, short for Elevated Train, which was built at the end of the 19th century, shows that infrastructure is still needed here, even in museum age.

Mies van der Rohe's campus for the “New Bauhaus”, now the Illinois Institute of Technology, is only a few minutes away. The former public school, under the influence of the Bauhaus by the architects Perkins & amp; Will, built in 2013, was closed due to allegedly poor test results and student shortages, sold to a development agency in 2015, and then stood empty until the biennial played on it. & Nbsp;

In this impressive building made of steel, concrete and glass, the third Chicago Architecture Biennial shows artistic projects that deal with the history of Bronzeville, the historically most important district of African-American culture in Chicago. Bronzeville flourished at the same time as the industry of the late 19th and 20th centuries, created a renowned jazz and art scene and withered again with the dawn of the post-industrial era. Other projects deal with social and structural problems: the implosion of public services, the segregation of Chicago. Three young people sit on one of the cantilevered concrete heels and, unflinchingly, that they have a striking reminder of the photographs taken by the Bauhaus family from Germany, enjoy their lunch.

The central exhibition of the Architecture Biennial will take place again this year in a museum environment, in the Chicago Cultural Center, a late historic building originally used as a public library in the center of the city. Despite these premises, the expected drawings, models or photographs of architectural projects can only be found there to a limited extent. Rather, the biennial extends to other forms of representation, from statistics to choreographies.

How do such forms of representation fit into a biennial architecture show? And shouldn't we be informed about current buildings? A few years ago, Barry Bergdoll, the former curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, said that exhibitions should not be perceived as inadequate replacements for built architecture. & Nbsp; Architecture in a museum gallery, by definition, operates with such substitutes. Avoiding them would also mean neglecting the immense potential with which exhibitions about and by means of this relocation specifically influenced the discussion. & Nbsp;

The Biennale is now reaching out into the city, more than its two predecessors. & Nbsp; Bergdoll's arguments denote an aesthetic outlook that is still valid, but has also been overtaken by integrative and political approaches. After the architectural competitions of the Enlightenment and the signpost of classic modernism (for example the legendary show "The International Style" in MoMA 1932), media translation, particularly in postmodernity, became an issue. & Nbsp; And indeed: Something unexpected - nine decades after first art biennial - the first architecture biennial in Venice in 1980 prompted philosopher Jürgen Habermas to comment on the end of modernism.

Among the contributions that, according to Habermas, betrayed the social and political responsibility of modernism in favor of a new historicism, the "Strada Novissima" stood out, a 70-meter-long Potemkin city with twenty facades by architects such as Hans Hollein, Arata Isozaki, Ricardo Bofill , Rem Koolhaas, Oswald Mathias Ungers, Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and others. & Nbsp; That this "newest street" was made up of fragments of past styles was perhaps not just a change in the philosophy of history, but a new kind of exhibition. & Nbsp ; What Habermas saw at the time as a symbol for an anti-modern trend reversal can just as well be seen as thinking about the exhibition as a medium.

Up until now, special exhibitions have reserved that exhibitions promote dialogue about architecture and can sometimes be more informative than completed buildings. There, the "paper architecture" of modern visionaries or artistic projects - from performative interventions to photographs - were presented to an informed audience. In recent years, however, the dilemma between model and built object has been accommodated by a change of discourse that wants architecture to be understood in the full range of tangible environments.

The social aspects of urban space (which Jane Jacobs already claimed for architecture in the 1960s) and not least the concern for the planet have also reached architecture and allow problems in the city such as gentrification, air quality, efficiency and areas, that belong to the infrastructure, i.e. raw material extraction, pipeline constructions or clean drinking water, can be seen as a sub-area. Since these discussions are only slowly reflected in built structures and utopian solutions have lost their credibility, projects at the interface of art and architecture, i.e. artistic-architectural research, are gaining new importance. These, in turn, are easy to display.

In the first year, the Chicago Biennale was supplemented by an enormous number of partner programs. Consequently & nbsp; there is hardly a building that is not used by the architectural personalities omnipresent in the history of architecture Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright or Mies van der Rohe. & Nbsp;

There is no question that Chicago, with its outstanding importance for modern architecture, was and is the ideal location for a biennial, but this time the themes in the central exhibition have changed radically. During the opening, some architects asked what projects to lower the rent in São Paulo, the video installation on BP's environmental sins (the founding and still the main sponsor of the Biennale!) And the temporary monument to the young victims of armed violence with architecture would have to do

So architecture wants to be political. But in the main exhibition the artistic contributions are more impressive, perhaps also because the management this year (Yesomi Umolu) comes from this area. The Romanian performance artist and dancer Alexandra Pirici choreographed a work that deals with territories and their loss for minorities in a room design dedicated to the American Civil War in the Cultural Center.

And the Chicago-based and internationally successful African-American artist Theaster Gates also shows in his documentary-artistic installation «Landed. Gates et.al. » the currently more than thirty plots of land and buildings that he bought in districts shaken by the real estate crisis and are now expanding into cultural sites. His focus on the neighborhoods neglected by planners and politicians, mostly “black spaces”, as he himself calls them, shows us the city as a tense negotiation between planners, speculations, political reality and the cultural and social demands of the residents. The buzzwords used in the opening speeches, such as decolonization and “unlearning”, which means “unlearning”, may alienate architects, but that is precisely why they should not be swept away.

And despite Barry Bergdoll's vote for the transfer to the museum: The suggestions for a broader architectural discourse at the branch offices curated by the Biennale in the lively city seem to have worked best. The central museum exhibition does not yet seem to be able to achieve the aesthetic reference to urban history and the present. In this way we will see whether it is architecture in the urban context itself that can be exhibited and at the same time lead to the major issues of our time. In Bronzeville, for example, the monumental glass surfaces of the former school speak of the modernist openness and clarity of a bygone era. But single glazing is no longer usable for public buildings: it is not energy efficient and also no longer complies with safety guidelines. "The glass is not bulletproof," murmurs someone next to me.

Mechtild Widrich is a professor of art history at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Two of her publications on the theory and criticism of art in public space are "Performative Monuments: The Rematerialization of Public Art" (2014) and "Ex Situ. On Moving Monuments »(forthcoming, with Jorge Otero-Pailos).

The third architecture biennial in Chicago under the title «. , . & nbsp; and Other Such Stories »was curated by Yesomi Umolu (artistic director), Sepake Angiama & nbsp; and Paulo Tavares. Until January 5, 2020 in the Chicago Cultural Center and in numerous branch offices.

The work “Re-Collection” choreographed by Alexandra Pirici critically activates the room and draws attention to architectural details in the Chicago Cultural Center that celebrate the American Civil War. (Image: Daris Jasper / Chicago Architecture Biennial)

All in all, the expensive private initiatives are so attractive, exciting and top-class that there is now a danger that the Biennale in Arsenale and Giardini will mutate into an additional program.

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