As far as game-changing architecture goes, has a big statement been made in the city of big shoulders recently? While there are scores of talented Chicago architects doing incredible work, the city that was once the laboratory for urban design may appear to exist in the shadow of its own history. As architectural theorist Alexander Eisenschmidt and art historian Jonathan Mekinda would say, contemporary Chicago building needs a bit more boldness. Their search for that catalyst for change is the subject of their new exhibit, Chicagoisms, at the Art Institute of Chicago. Filled with an array of models displayed in poppy plastic bubbles, the exhibit is centred on proposals that jump out at the audience, projecting different approaches to urban development.
“For us, Chicago doesn’t have that spark it once had,” says Eisenschmidt. “It’s lost its ambitiousness, its will to take on risky projects. It’s a safe kind of urbanism. We’re calling for a new kind of boldness to engage the city today.”
The idea grew out of five core concepts, or “Chicagoisms,” such as “Technology Makes Spectacle” (the Ferris Wheel at the 1893 World’s Fair) and "Ambition Overcomes Nature" (the reversal of the Chicago river), tenets that shaped the city’s legacy. Explored in depth with essays and case studies in Eisenschmidt and Mekinda’s similarly titled book, these concepts informed the work of nine teams of local and international artists that are the focus of the show. For instance, PORT A+U architects Christopher Marcinkoski and Andrew Moddrell explored the potential of extending Lake Shore Drive further east and expanding the city’s downtown district, while UrbanLab wonders how a Great Lakes aqueduct might redefine the Midwest. There’s no fealty to budgets or political will here, a liberating way to view off-the-cuff suggestions for the next stage in Chicago’s architectural evolution.