A Retroactive Introduction
Issue statement by Iker Gil, editor in chief of MAS Context
The inaugural Chicago Architectural Biennial, titled “The State of the Art of Architecture,” closed over six months ago. In a little over a year, the second edition will be on its way with locals and visitors once again discussing current issues about architecture. Just like the inaugural edition, hundreds of projects, events, and conversations will once again take over the city for three months, injecting new energy into the architectural community and, hopefully, the public at large.
While events of this scale bring an influx of attention throughout their duration, it is the time in between them when we can reflect on the issues at stake, successes and missed opportunities, and what structural changes are needed to achieve those goals on which we collectively agree upon.
The exhibition BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago, which I curated, was part of the inaugural biennial. The eighteen projects included in BOLD investigated urban conditions located in Chicago but that are also present in other cities. The proposals varied in scale, topic of investigation, and architectural exploration, but they all took a stance and intelligently and critically addressed those urban conditions. Through their imagination, but grounded in current conditions, each participant showed alternative ways of thinking as well as a path for architects and designers to play a crucial role in the transformation of the city. The projects shaped and visualized a new possible future and, in doing so, they challenged the visible and invisible structures that decide that future city for us. Fortunately, these projects and challenges were shared openly and publicly with residents and visitors. By locating the core of the biennial (and the BOLD exhibition) in a public building such as the Chicago Cultural Center (Chicago’s former main library), visitors of all ages and all backgrounds had free access to explore these ideas and to become participants in (or at least aware of) this important conversation to shape Chicago.
Ultimately, the position of the exhibition (and this issue) is that architecture should engage with the city, strategically and critically, using all of the tools at its disposal. And, when possible, architecture should collaborate with other disciplines that, from their respective expertise, can add tremendously valuable knowledge to explore the potential of our cities. Chicago is facing issues that are neither small nor easy to fix. It is a city that is growing increasingly unequal with important social and economic challenges. For some it is a “world class city.” For others, it is the city where, day in day out, you see your family, neighbors, and friends get shot. Two realities exist under the name of Chicago. These are issues that cannot be overlooked if we genuinely want to change our city. They require careful analysis, determination, and the expertise of many, including architects.
The architects and designers behind the projects featured in BOLD are eager to be part of the conversations about Chicago. They are eager to discuss their strategies, to be challenged about their positions, and to change opinions about what can be done. The exhibition lasted for three months and, with this issue, we hope to extend that conversation and continue to add new voices to it. More than a record of a past activity, we want this issue to serve as a tool to look forward. A document to continue to reflect on and build upon, whether in future editions of the biennial or on a daily basis, as the city continues to take shape.
The BOLD exhibition and publication have had invaluable help from Cameron Acheson, Stephen Adzemovic, Joseph Altshuler, Kelly Bair, Bill Baker, Catherine Baker, Chris Bennett, Michelle Benoit, Brandon Biederman, Maya Bird-Murphy, Jeff Bone, David Brown, Tyler Brown, Matthew Busscher, Selina Chiu, Yona Chung, André Corrêa, Darryl G. Crosby, Alex Culler, Hope Dinsmore, Anthony Dombrowski, Sarah Dunn, Alejandra Edery-Ferre, Mircea Eni, Martin Felsen, Brenda Gamboa, Claire Gaspin, Jonathan Gately, Jacob Gay, Grant Gibson, Trisha Girdwood, Veronica Gomez, Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido, Caroline Grebner, Luke Hegeman, Ryan Hernandez, Stewart Hicks, Tom Jacobs, Tad Jameyfield, Ania Jaworska, Benton Johnson, Aishwarya Keshav, Jungsik Kim, Shin Kim, France La, Katie LaCourt, Jessie LaFree, Sean Lally, Peter Landon, Michelangelo La Tona, Brian Lee, Chi Yin Lee, Elias Logan, Obed Lopez, Eugenia Macchia, Jeffrey Macias, Joe Madon, Christopher Marcinkoski, Margaret McCurry, Julie Michiels, Maria Miller, Josh Mings, Ruta Misiunas, Andrew Moddrell, Juan Gabriel Moreno, Sean Myung, Anya Nair, Miriam Neet, Allison Newmeyer, Andrew Newmeyer, Angela Ngo, Marina Nicollier, Andrew Obendorf, Conor O’Shea, A. Melinda Palmore, Michael Pecirno, Verónica Pérez, Samra Qasim, David Ramis, Claudia Rodriguez, Jeisler Salunga, David Schalliol, Philip Schmidt, Matthew Schneider, Jack Schroeder, Don Semple, Werner Sobek, Dominik Soltys, Dan Spore, Drew Stanley, Phil Stott, Margaret Sullivan, Lindsey Telford, Stanley Tigerman, Austin Tsai, Chen-Han Tu, Aura Venckunaite, Fariha Wajid, Terran Wilson, Lukasz Wojnicz, Laura-Anne Wong, and Michael Wu.
We also want to extend our gratitude to other members of the studios that were featured in the exhibition as well as those that we toured during the studio visits.
Special thanks to Renata Graw and Alexa Viscius from Normal for designing the identity of the exhibition. For the design of this issue, Renata and Alexa worked in collaboration with Ansgar Kleem and Rafael Barontini.
Finally, thanks to Sarah Herda, Joseph Grima, and their team as well as Michelle Boone, Commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), for the opportunity to curate and present this work during the inaugural Chicago Architectural Biennial.
Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. In addition, he is the editor in chief of MAS Context. He is the editor of the book Shanghai Transforming (ACTAR, 2008) and has curated several exhibitions, most recently “BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago” as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. He is the recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club and has been recognized as one of “Fifty Under Fifty: Innovators of the 21st Century” by a jury composed by Stanley Tigerman, Jeanne Gang, Qingyun Ma, and Marion Weiss.
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