This Year, the Chicago Architecture Biennial Is All about Inclusion
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This Year, the Chicago Architecture Biennial Is All about Inclusion

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By Duncan Nielsen
The international exhibition has returned with more than 100 civic, educational, and cultural events—and the entire program is free to the public.

From now until January 5, the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial is offering a series of weekends stacked with workshops, films, and lectures geared towards a collective exploration of the city’s urbanism and architecture. This year's biennial is titled ...and other such stories, and the programming focuses upon Chicago’s diverse population. To encourage turnout, the biennial has its doors propped wide: all events are free and open to the public. 

"The initiatives are meant to reach the whole public across the city, and to make architecture more accessible, and to start making Chicagoans think much more about their immediate environments," says artistic director Yesomi Umolu, who’s curating this year's program. (Learn more about Umolu—and check out her top Windy City picks—in our 2019 Chicago city guide.)

The front steps of the Chicago Cultural Center welcome all to the international exhibition. 

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On the left, sculptures by award-winning Chicago-native Theaster Gates rest atop wooden desks. To the right, Vincent Meessen's SIISIS is a sculptural labyrinth that plays with the opposing forces of circulation and constraint within a city. 

Berlin–based Construct Lab's How Together is an example of their greater body of work that aims to heighten sense of community and enhance purpose of place. The company melts divisions of labor and features a cast of multi-talented designers and builders. 

In collaboration with RIWAQ Center for Architectural Conservation, architects Yara Sharif and Nasser Golzari created Secrets of a Digital Garden: 50 Flowers–50 Villages, which is shown planted atop plywood in canvas sacks. RIWAQ is an Aga Khan Award honoree. To the back is Summer Flowers by Cape Town–based Wolff Architects, whose business revolves around multidisciplinary design, an in-house art gallery, and site-specific art installations. To the right, curving, wooden slats comprise Indigenous Geometries, a work by Tanya Lukin-Linklater and Tiffany Shaw-Collinge that draws attention to overlooked histories specific to southern Alaska and central Alberta. 

Oakland–based Walter J. Hood is an artist, designer, and educator who strives to bring beauty to the lives of all by repurposing materials in urban spaces. His work, Three Trees: Jackson, Obama, Washington, are amalgamations of Y-shaped wooden rods.

Highlights include a lecture series on Tuesdays that explore topics ranging from the women of Bauhaus to W.E.B. Du Bois’s work as it relates to African American identity and representation. A film series—made possible by the Chicago International Film Festival—addresses emergent issues and concerns across the fields of architecture and design. A dialogue series, lead in part by biennial co-curator Sepaka Angiama, discusses the evolving idea of utopia as shaped by architecture and politics. 

Fifty different venues are playing host with the Chicago Cultural Center as home base, per usual. As a promoter of thousands of different artistic and cultural works each year, the center is hallowed turf, and a point of pride for the city. "The comprehensive range of programming taking place during the biennial is an exciting example of the exchange that makes our city so dynamic," says Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot.

The Plot: Miracle and Mirage by Alejandra Celedón, Nicolás Stutzin, and Javier Correa engages architectural histories and use of public space. An onlooker peers into the distorted glass casing that houses a display of jutting skyscrapers. 

MASS Design Group and Hank Willis Thomas' The Gun Violence Memorial is a permanent national memorial honoring the victims of senseless gun violence. Families who've lost loved ones have contributed remembrance objects to the glass houses' 2,800 collective bricks. Each house is comprised of 700 bricks, which is the number of gun deaths that occur every week in America. 

Inside the Chicago Cultural Center, Adrian Blackwell's Anarchitectural Library (against the neoliberal erasure of Chicago's common spaces) intervenes with the powers and interests that shape a city's urban space. 

Adrian BlackwellAnarchitectural Library (against the neoliberalerasure of Chicago’s common spaces), 2019

A second, clearer view of Summer Flowers by artists and designers Wolff Architects.


The Chicago Cultural Center hosts thousands of events each year to promote the city's wealth of art.  

The Biennial is the largest architecture and design exhibition in North America, and it owes that accolade, in part, to support from a wealth of partners. The Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Architecture Center, and the Chicago Loop Alliance all add immense value to the citywide affair. Biennial Board Chairman Jack Guthman views these collaborations as a way to "ensure that the Biennial’s presence and its focus—the intersection between architecture and the complex issues faced by municipalities worldwide—will engage audiences across our city."

A full calendar of events can be found on the Chicago Architecture Biennial’s website.

The exhibition is titled "...and other such stories," and hones in on a theme of inclusion surrounding the city's architecture and urbanism. 

Photos courtesy of Chicago Architecture Biennial, Kendall McCaugherty, Tuan Nguyen, and Creativity+ Timothy K. Hamilton

Related Reading: 

 Top Design Cities 2019: Chicago 

 Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House Gets New Beams