Commit to the Crit: The Chicago Architecture Biennial

Earlier this summer, the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development announced that it had formed a Committee on Design from a volunteer coterie of architects, developers, and academics, who will collectively assess development proposals. The initiative had the veneer of a boring legislative body, and yet I was startled as I scanned the list of members. The architect Jeanne Gang stood out, as did a trio of artists: Nick Cave, Theaster Gates, and there at the bottom, Amanda Williams. To me, the move represents a bureaucratization of those with good ideas—with skills and tools and connections to communities and critical practices.

The 2021 edition of Exhibit Columbus asks “What Is the Future of the Middle City?”

Exhibit Columbus: New Middles – From Main Street to Megalopolis, What is the Future of the Middle City? Columbus, Indiana Open through November 28, 2021 On the four-hour drive from Chicago to Columbus, Indiana, romance and romanticization were squarely on my mind. I had heard about the Columbus mythos, in which corporate generosity made the place into a modernist mecca of the Midwest. For an architect of Eero Saarinen’s standing, or his protégé Kevin Roche, Columbus presented itself as an i

Exhibit Columbus explores the interconnected ecosystems and built environments of the Mississippi watershed

In the minds of many coast dwellers, the American middle exists only in reference to their own condition: flyovers, breadbaskets. Middle-ness isn’t a state of being in and of itself but rather an aberrated refraction of the coasts’ sparkling prisms. For those who live in the middle, their existence and identities are fractured between geography, industry, and policy, while being outwardly lumped into regionalisms: the Midwest, the heartland. At this year’s Exhibit Columbus (Indiana, that is), wh

How Future Firm Finds Inspiration in the "Messy Ecology" of Cities

Chicago-based Future Firm is a practice that embraces the complexities of building — site conditions, system challenges and infrastructure. But instead of abandoning them as “problems solved” or “issues mitigated,” founding principals Ann Lui and Craig Reschke see those complications as opportunities for imagination. From a sensitive renovation of a former medical office into an artist studio and gallery to the conceptual installation Storm-Speed City — which revisits the role of weather in cit

At Tuskegee University, an architecture professor leverages historic preservation goals to meet community ones

Traces of the past at Tuskegee University remind attentive students and visitors of the unique social conditions that produced the historic campus. Founded in 1881, the institution was built up by its first group of students and instructors. Their hands made the bricks and mixed the mortar, and if you look closely, you can find their fingerprints preserved in the building facades. “Our campus is a living, organic entity because it was born out of the dirt and shaped by students and faculty,” sa

Ply+ injects bold color and unique geometries into the design of a single-family home

Architecture studio Ply+ designed House P, a slender rectilinear building outside Ann Arbor, Michigan, with two goals: to accommodate the clients’ desire to age in their own home and to showcase their large art collection, which ranges from prints to sculptures. According to firm principal Craig Borum, the two-story house’s sleek form—it contains two bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, a kitchen and dining area on the top level, and ample lounge space—was influenced by the site’s steep topograph

Revaluing emptiness in Chicago

Unused land, in the eye of capital, is wasted space, dormant and waiting to build wealth via development. In Chicago, among other Rust Belt cities, huge swathes of land are empty of buildings. More than 13,800 city-owned vacant parcels sit on the South and West Sides in predominantly Black and Brown neighbourhoods, a product of historical redlining that created Chicago’s segregated cityscape, exacerbating foreclosures and depopulation.

At the Love Building, community know-how and design expertise reinforce one another

When Dessa Cosma met with fellow Detroit social justice leader Jeanette Lee in 2016, she was struggling to locate accessible office space for her organization, Detroit Disability Power. Lee’s Allied Media Projects was battling rising office rents as it bounced between neighborhoods. Seeking a more permanent home for both organizations, Lee found and purchased an old furniture storage facility in the Core City neighborhood, a couple of miles northwest of downtown. The space is large—25,000 squar

MASS Design Group’s first U.S. healthcare project is an inclusive Texan clinic

Who writes a building’s story? The architect, the client, the nearby community, and the building’s users could all pen different narratives. Some might wax poetic about shining details and brilliant floorplans; others might record displacement and division. The Family Health Center on Virginia (The Center)—a new community medical clinic in North Texas designed by MASS Design Group with assistance from Corgan and SmithGroup—aims to ensure that all voices are included and uplifted in its story. T


FROM THE MAY 2020 ISSUE OF One day, Pascale Sablan sat down at her computer and googled the phrase “great architects.” Dozens of architects’ names appeared on the screen, and to her surprise, very few of them looked like her. “There was one woman—Zaha Hadid—and nine people of color,” says Sablan, an architect at S9 Architecture in New York. Hadid, holding two boats, also accounted for one of those nine. In that moment Sablan was concerned for kids, because when kids hear about something they m

Dark Side: A Conversation with Aaron Seward and Anjulie Rao

The third edition of the Chicago Architecture Biennial opened on September 19, 2019. Titled “…And Other Such Stories,” it was curated by Yesomi Umolu, Sepake Angiama, and Paulo Tavares. Hosted at the Chicago Cultural Center and four off-site venues, the exhibition elided the formal and technical aspects of architecture to focus on problems of equity and historical violence in the world in which architecture operates. Here, Chicago Architect Editor Anjulie Rao and Texas Architect Editor Aaron Seward discuss some of what they absorbed at the event.

How buying a house activated all of my anxieties

Last year I decided to engage in the truest, purest act of banal suffering: I bought a house. Buying a house isn’t one action; it’s a series of actions: frantically scraping together every penny you have, talking to strangers (real estate agents and lenders), fighting with plumbers, and filling out paperwork. It’s a process that poked at each of my anxieties, from the sharp, short-term suffering of making phone calls to the bigger question of whether I had become my own worst enemy: a gentrifie

A decade of regret in Chicago

The losses in Chicago’s built environment go far beyond the buildings and their architectural features. These places are symbols of greater failures: vacant lots represent a dearth of affordable housing, church-condo conversions signal the absence of community spaces, and closed schools call attention to the city’s disinvestment in its neighborhoods. This only covers a sliver of the demolitions and conversions that have occured in the past decade. These spaces are still mourned today, and as we

Finding Peace on Chicago’s Bridges

The Loop is a great place to develop an anxiety disorder, which I did two years ago, having worked there, daily, for five years. There’s a sense of loneliness that accompanies subsisting among skyscrapers: the omnipresent emptiness of monuments to capitalism combined with the lingering panic that everyone has some place to be and, yes, we’re in each other’s way. It’s why I came up with a routine that allows me a pace more in line with my raised-in-the-forest heartbeat: I walk, slowly, across Chi

Power, violence, and the Chicago Architecture Biennial

Architecture biennials are created to take the pulse of the profession, to display what architects are making, thinking about, and valuing. If a pulse is what we were looking for, I would have put the Chicago Architecture Biennial in an ambulance years ago. Past editions were missing the critical, complicated histories of segregation and redlining; the grand, hopeful construction and spectacular destruction of large-scale public housing were glossed over; the seemingly unfixable disrepair that b
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