Chicago Architecture Biennial: 10 things we loved

Model skyscrapers, funky churches, and more architecture abound at the second edition of this sprawling event


The Chicago Cultural Center, main venue for the Chicago Architecture Biennial Tom Harris
At the press conference to kick off the second edition of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, held underneath the massive Tiffany glass dome of the Chicago Cultural Center, the running joke was that the event was finally “official”— it’s not a biennial until it happens twice. But taking in the massive collection of displays, shows, and satellite events running from September 16 through January 7, it’s clear organizers and participants are keen to avoid a sophomore slump.

Artistic directors, architects, and educators Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee, of L.A.’s Johnston Marklee, invited more than 140 participants from around the world to interpret the exhibit’s theme, “Make New History.” Based on the myriad of architectural history, design, and urban planning displays, it appeared to be a wide-ranging prompt. Here are some of the exhibitions and events that stood out during a tour of the main display and many of the off-site exhibitions opening weekend...

...8. A highly engineered look at an architecture firm’s own history

It’s hard to escape the shadow of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in Chicago. Quite literally, since the global firm is responsible for the city’s most famous two skyscrapers, the Willis Tower and the John Hancock Center. In keeping with the company’s engineering prowess, this off-site exhibit, running at the Mana Contemporary Gallery in the city’s West Loop, gives visitors a delightfully nerdy walk through the science of architecture.

Tables contain displays illuminating different types of trusses and joints, and an entire room is filled with small models of skyscrapers, further broken down with a wall display explaining the names and forms of each major type of design. Amid an event filled with theoretical ideas, fluffy explanatory wall text, and abstract images, “SOM: Engineering x [Art + Architecture]” offers bit of a palette cleanser to really geek out about buildings.

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Written by Patrick Sisson
September 18, 2017