A historic future
A historic future

The title of this year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial — Make New History — is succinct, yet robust. From the declarative verb make, to the tenet of innovation embedded in new, to the respect for past and future indicated by history, the exhibition promises to present work of currency and consequence while calling the architecture community to further action.

Ten members of the UIC School of Architecture faculty are participating in the biennial, which runs from Saturday, September 16, 2017, to Sunday, January 7, 2018: Paul Andersen (Independent Architecture) and Paul Preissner (Paul Preissner Architects); Sarah Dunn (UrbanLab); Sam Jacob (Sam Jacob Studio); Ania Jaworska (Ania Jaworska); Stewart Hicks and Allison Newmeyer (Design With Company); Thomas Kelley (Norman Kelley); Robert Somol (UIC School of Architecture); and Andrew Zago (Zago Architecture).

In their program statement, the biennial’s Artistic Directors Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee write: “Today, history represents neither an oppressive past that modernism tried to discard nor a retrograde mind-set against unbridled progress. Instead, at a time when there is too much information and not enough attention — when a general collective amnesia perpetuates a state of eternal presentness — understanding the channels through which history moves and is shaped by architecture is more import ant than ever. A generation of architects has noted a renewed interest in precedents of architecture.

Committed to progress, but always from within an architectural tradition, these architects are producing innovative and subversive works grounded in the fundamentals of the discipline, and rooted in the fabrics of the cities where they are built, without feeling pressured to keep up with micro-trends or being accused of cultural appropriation.”

The assertion that architects are working “at a time when there is too much information and not enough attention” frames the biennial with some urgency, as an exercise in close looking, and posits architecture itself as an intervention against the “collective amnesia” that “perpetuates an eternal presentness.” Architecture’s future seems newly and fearlessly drawn by the lines of historical understanding intersecting with entirely new lines of inquiry in the current age of sustainability, accessibility, speed, and the constant flow of information.

The advantage for students of architecture would seem to be the discovery that being able to know anything, anytime remains less important than what you understand. Expectations can be successfully subverted only when they are grasped.

In this spirit of close looking within the context of both an omnipresent past and impending provocation, faculty member and biennial participant Sarah Dunn advises architecture students and recent graduates to go, and go often, to the biennial. Students in the School of Architecture are fortunate to be learning their profession in one of the great modern cities of the world, but the biennial brings a host of other cities and projects to Chicago as well.

Dunn says the phrase “make new history” is “an interesting one that makes you think twice. How does one do that? It’s a process of both looking forward and looking back. You are making this projective thing but immediately situating it in architectural history, which is what we do all the time. There’s always the pursuit of the new, but not everyone talks about how the new fits into the old, and the biennial invites us to look closely at work in that framework.”

For details about the biennial, visit: chicagoarchitecturebiennial.org.

Image left: Paul Preissner & Paul Andersen; Photo: James Florio. 
Image right: Urban Lab, Ancona Playground, Chicago, 2016; Photo: Michelle Litvin.