Chicago Architecture Biennial Preview - Exploring Space, Home, House, and Shelter

Chicago Architecture Biennial Preview - Exploring Space, Home, House, and Shelter
Chicago on the eve of the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial. October to December 2015.

This weekend, I went out to get a preview of some of the offerings of the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial that will take over the city starting this week. The CAB website is chock-a-block with events and exhibits, lectures, openings, new ideas. It's all very exciting, and promises much to savor over the coming months.

I started Sunday morning reading Tricia Van Eck's brief insightful essay ‘Art as Dialogue’ about the role of art in a public space. Audience and its importance to artists is a key topic for Van Eck, and she is participating in the Biennial with ‘It’s Elemental’, an exhibit she curated at 6018|NORTH where she is artistic director. The show springboards off Rem Koolhaas’ “Elements of Architecture” at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2014. Van Eck has invited artists to make work addressing the elements of window, floor, door, ceiling, etc. in response to the mishmash of styles in her aging mansion at 6018 North Kenmore.

6018|North is an old house, and Van Eck has used it as a home for the community - hosting meals and dinners and celebrations for her neighbors. Prior to starting 6018|North, Van Eck spent 13 years as curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and perhaps this is what led me to the MCA that afternoon.

At the MCA, I came upon installers busily putting in place Johnston Marklee’s “A Grid is a Grid is a Grid”, a proposed alteration to the MCA’s airy café. Described as an ‘intervention’, the installation heightens awareness of the grid-based system upon which the MCA building is structured.

Installation in progress of Johnston Marklee’s "A Grid is a Grid is a Grid" intervention in the Museum of Contemporary Art's airy café.

Installation in progress of Johnston Marklee’s "A Grid is a Grid is a Grid" intervention in the Museum of Contemporary Art's airy café.

Johnston Marklee's cafe grid from above.

Johnston Marklee's cafe grid from above.

I also spent a little time with “S, M, L, XL”, Michael Darling’s exploration of works that explore human relationship to physical space. The show certainly resonates with the Architectural Biennial. The title references the landmark 1995 book by architect Rem Koolhaas, that “explores scale in a variety of guises, from the intimate to the public, the social to the environmental.”

This is a fun show, gathering 4 pieces attentive to the human experience of space; tightness and muffled quiet in “Passageway” by Robert Morris; expansiveness and noise in Kris Martin's hot air balloon that you can wander inside of, Franz West's blue, encasing pod, and Morris' narrow, stand-alone doorway that reminded me of Frank Lloyd Wright’s preoccupation with the siting and sizing of entryways - low ceiling-ed and unexpected.

Robert Morris' claustrophobia-inducing "Untitled (Passageway)", originally installed for five nights in Yoko Ono's loft in New York in 1961. Morris described the work as an 'environment', intended to heighten the relationship between the viewer's physical body and the art object.

Robert Morris' claustrophobia-inducing "Untitled (Passageway)", originally installed for five nights in Yoko Ono's loft in New York in 1961. Morris described the work as an 'environment', intended to heighten the relationship between the viewer's physical body and the art object.

Peeking out of Franz West's blue, encasing pod, toward Robert Morris' door in “S, M, L, XL”, Michael Darling’s exploration of works that explore human relationship to physical space at the MCA.

Peeking out of Franz West's blue, encasing pod, toward Robert Morris' "Portal", part of “S, M, L, XL”, Michael Darling’s exploration of works that explore human relationship to physical space at the MCA.

"T.Y.F.F.S.H." Kris Martin's hot air balloon in "S, M, L, XL" at the MCA.

"T.Y.F.F.S.H." Kris Martin's hot air balloon in "S, M, L, XL" at the MCA.

Leaving the MCA, I walked over through Jane Addams park to see if Sarah FitzSimon’s “House” was installed on Ohio Street Beach yet. Either I missed it, or the piece is going to be dropped in on the beach in the next couple of days.

Ohio Street beach awaits Sarah FitzSimons' "House" for the Biennial.

Ohio Street beach awaits Sarah FitzSimon's "House" for the Biennial.

What I hadn't quite put together until I was standing there is that FitzSimons’ piece will be installed, literally, in the shadow of the steel girded Lakepoint Tower. FitzSimmons’ House breaks the idea of shelter down to essence; a gestural 3-dimensional drawing made using aluminum poles, standing half in and half out of the water. I want a chance to stand inside it.

Lakepoint Tower, across Jane Addams park from Ohio Street beach.

Lakepoint Tower, across Jane Addams park from Ohio Street beach.

On my way home, I drove across town to the last remaining building from the former Jane Addams Homes Public housing project at 1322 West Taylor Street.

This is the site of the National Public Housing Museum (NPHM) and will host “We, Next Door”, organized by the NPHM and its youth advisory council. The project is part of “House Housing: An Untimely History of Architecture and Real Estate”, a research project of the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture/ Columbia University.

The last-standing building of the former Jane Addams Homes housing projects. Home now to the National Public Housing Museum on Taylor Street.

The last-standing building of the former Jane Addams Homes housing projects. Home now to the National Public Housing Museum on Taylor Street.

Jane Addams homes, the first Federal public housing project in Chicago, opened in 1938. It's an excellent site for a show intended to encourage “a public, historically informed conversation about the intersection of architecture and real estate development.” Jane Addams homes were once a part of the CHA's sprawling ABLA housing project, now demolished to make way for a variety of development ventures on this valuable real estate.

In these few explorations of the many riches to come, I'm struck by the diversity of approach to the elemental notions of home, and shelter; and the negotiation of these at the intersections of public space and private experience.

Jane Addams homes.

Jane Addams homes.

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