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Retrospective: Theaster Gates

To sanctify a place, you might call a priest. Perhaps they would throw some holy water on it, anoint it with oil, or build an ornate palace for prayer. But for Theaster Gates, making a place sacred begins with repair; the holiness of a place is evidenced by care. Since the late 1990s, the Chicago‑based potter, performance artist and urban planner has created an empire out of materials and sites that speak to the Black experience, Black places and Black objects – to great international acclaim.

Norman Teague draws inspiration from John Coltrane’s masterpiece

In these days of violence and uncertainty, I’ve been seeking gratitude. As such I’ve returned to Wendell Berry’s It All Turns on Affection—a brief but profound book that calls for a turn away from an aspirational economy driven by technology and back to caring for the land around us. Affection, I believe, requires gratitude—for what we have and for what goodness the future could bring. When Berry asks us to redirect our collective attention to another way of being in the world, one based on devo

Discover Chicago’s layered history

Early one morning I stood on what might be the last undeveloped piece of land in the Loop’s radius. The site of the forthcoming DuSable Park is, currently, a soil mound bursting with prairie life located where the Chicago River punctures Lake Michigan’s mouth. This, says architect Ryan Gann, who is working with Ross Barney Architects on the upcoming park’s design, is where Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable’s property, composed of nine buildings, would have once stood. The mound now hosts nine informa

“The Curse” Demolishes the HGTV Fantasy

Home improvement television operates from a place of fantasy, where even those of us trapped by financial woes or negligent landlords can play dress-up in others’ whims and desires. Will that new kitchen help tidy up this lonely bachelor’s life, eventually attracting his new soulmate? That’s his fantasy, and watching his home transform, it becomes ours, too. The Curse, a new 10-episode Showtime series, dwells in the familiar space of HGTVesque fantasy, mixed with the particular brand of cringe

Finalists announced for a housing ideas competition in Chicago

Design competitions are a funny exercise: Invite architects to produce thoughtful and visually interesting drawings without compensation, convene a jury to decide which ones are the best, and then write a press release announcing the winners. It’s a relatively commonplace activity used in Chicago that, on one hand, has yielded the Tribune Tower; and on the other, has resulted in thousands of foamcore boards in the dumpster. Earlier this year, when the City of Chicago announced an effort to “repo

A career-spanning show of drawings by James Wines

Our era of the Anthropocene is one of never-ending casualties: Humans perish under “once in a generation” weather events nearly yearly, and species collapse is all around us. Meanwhile, Architecture responds with press releases for new, lavish office towers that undoubtedly reach net-zero status. The renderings show sparklingly clear glass, ready to contribute to the 1 billion birds that die each year from window collisions...

In Debt and in the Dark

Klaire Viduya graduated in May from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, with a bachelor’s and a master’s of architecture. Since then, she’s been settling into a job working on education design projects and studying to obtain her license. A first-generation college student and child of working-class immigrants, Viduya found paying for her education challenging. Even though she opted for public school, she was still surprised when she got her first tuition bills. “One thing that I didn’t factor,

Rethinking equity in the built environment

The house next door to mine was torn down. My neighbors don’t quite remember the year, but the resident local historian, Maurice, who has lived on the block since the late 60s, was shipped off to Vietnam and, upon his return in 1972, the house had vanished. The product of “slum clearance” on Chicago’s west side, the home’s demolition was swiftly met by the efforts of Maurice’s mother, Audrey, who took to the land with a shovel, bulbs, and saplings. The lot soon became a garden: a grassy oasis th

Gone Feral

A review of Natura Urbana: Ecological Constellations in Urban Space by Matthew Gandy. There are more than 30,000 vacant lots in the city of Chicago—remnants of urban renewal’s disastrous execution and disinvestment. Where buildings once stood, acres of new life have emerged. Many of those empty lots have become overgrown—small prairies where remnants of building foundations peek out from plots of seeding grasses; thick, tender lamb’s-quarter; and purple flowering chicory. The lots are home to r

Thompson Center is an adaptive reuse win, but may be a loss for the public

The past few years have demonstrated Big Tech’s desire for brand-new “Big and Loud” buildings. Thankfully, Chicago has remained relatively immune to the trend: Unlike Norman Foster’s Apple Park in Cupertino or Amazon’s “Helix” headquarters in Arlington, Virginia (known for its “poop emoji” helical form), tech companies in Chicago have maintained a conservative architectural footprint that, surprisingly, has relied on existing building stock. Google, the most prominent of those tech giants, lande

American Framing exposes nation’s long-concealed construction method

I went to Wrightwood 659 to find America. Not like Paul Simon—it wasn’t a regional trek from Saginaw with Kathy. We can’t smoke on buses anymore, anyway. Instead, I boarded the 66 headed east and transferred to the 8 at Halstead to view an exhibition at the gallery: American Framing. The show was originally mounted last year as the Pavilion of the United States at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale and afterward traveled (also not by Greyhound) to the Tadao Ando–designed gallery tucked away o

Chicago’s INVEST South/West yields early initial projects, but not without communication breakdowns along the way

The City of Chicago calls ISW a “global model for urban revitalization.” According to a press release from November 2021, there has been approximately $1.4 billion in investments so far, including $750 million in city funds, $575 million in corporate and philanthropic commitments, and $300 million in planned mixed-use projects. Accounting for the last figure is a series of RFPs issued by the city over the past two years to developers and architects for the redevelopment of sites along commercial

Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture’s expansion of the Steppenwolf Theatre brings the backstage to the house

Spending closing night of A Christmas Carol in the company of theater geeks—but not being one myself—I watched enviously as my peers galloped and hollered at the cast party in our high school theater backstage. They navigated around strange machineries, like lights and scaffolds and a forest of ropes dangling from ethereal catwalks, disappearing behind doors to reemerge on stage; they knew where all the trapdoors were. Theaters, I learned from this close vantage, are places for architectural mag

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.
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