First of all, it's an incredible show. The Cultural Center never looked so good. As Margaret [McCurrey] said last night, this is a much better venue than in Venice. I really am thrilled by the exhibition, by the energy of the catalog, the series of events that are going on and on and on for the next many weeks. This show that emanates from Chicago is the beginning of a rebirth in a certain way of the energy that we have lost as architects in this city until now.
So said 85-year-old godfather of Chicago architecture Stanley Tigerman of the opening day of the first Chicago Architecture Biennial, a massively ambitious exhibition of the work and thought of over one hundred invited designers from more than 30 countries. The theme of the Biennial, The State of the Art of Architecture, is actually crib of a 1977 conference organized by Tigerman as a shot-across-the-bow of the perceived icy grip of the followers of Mies van der Rohe on architectural practice and discourse.
In his generally upbeat review of the Biennial, Chicago Tribune architecture Blair Kamin called the range of work "uneven", with a "lack of thematic coherence that could have benefited from "a stronger curatorial hand."
To which I can only reply, "Praise God." The last thing architecture in Chicago - or anywhere - needs right now is a curator's heavy thumb pre-digesting whose ideas are admissible, or straight-jacketing the anarchic world of contemporary architecture into a neat little box.
The strength of the Chicago Architecture Biennial is its catholicity. Rightfully, co-curators Sarah Herda, Director of the Graham Foundation, and architect and author Joseph Grima did their due diligence of ensuring participants were at a high level of accomplishment, and then largely got out of the way. Much like a Mahler Symphony is said to encompass the world, the first Chicago Architecture Biennial offers up the experience of encountering a universe of architecture, with all of its differences in outlook, technique and philosophy. Some of it will astonish, some annoy, some appall. But Herda and Grima attempt to give us the thing whole. Their subset world may not be in perfect fidelity to the real thing, but it's an enthralling representation.
Over the next three months, until the Biennial's close on January 3rd, we hope to explore some of its most interesting installations in greater detail. As an introduction, however, we're going to give you a photo portrait of our first impressions being one of the first persons to enter the exhibition shortly after its official opening at 9:00 a.m., Saturday, October 3rd.
|click images for larger view|
As I made my way back down to the main floor, I heard music again, very dark, very seductive music, and began walking down the Michigan Avenue galleries to find it.
Bold: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago, a sub-exhibition curated by Iker Gill. Blair didn't think much of it, but I found the entries, in turn, maddening, challenging, fascinating, and engaging. I'll be writing more about it later. The thing to know right off, however, is that part of the genius of Herda and Grima is how the Biennial gives lesser known architects their time in sun at the expense of big name firms that often dominate such exhibitions. In fact, it's only in Bold that you'll see contributions from such mainstays as SOM, Krueck and Sexton, and Jahn.
From here, make your way back to the beginning, to the Randolph Street entrance, where you can rest in the foyer on the reused materials of Studio Albori's Makeshift . . .
The G.A.R Hall along the north end of the 2nd floor was originally built as a museum and meeting space for the Grand Army of the Republic - Civic War veterans who were still very much a living presence at the time of the library's opening. This may be the first time the hall has seemed almost stretched to capacity, with large scale installations such as Onishimaki+Hyakudayuki Architect's Children's Town . . .