Tadao Ando converts Chicago’s Wrightwood 659 into an art space
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Tadao Ando converts Chicago’s Wrightwood 659 into an art space

A former residential building in Chicago is transformed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando to house exhibitions on architecture and socially engaged art.

by Palak Maheshwari Jul 20, 2019

The exteriors of an architectural space hold more significance than just being the aesthetic covering of the art that resides within. The transformation of Wrightwood 659 - a former residential structure built with red bricks representing Chicago’s culture - is a true example of this thought. The building was revived from a four-storey, four-walled residential space, to an architectural symbol brooding on the contemporary vision of modern and socially charged concepts. It is almost poetic how Pritzker Laureate Tadao Ando - the Japanese architect responsible for converting the brick building into an art space - gave the place a whole new dimension while retaining the significance of the old structure.

Located at 659 W. Wrightwood Avenue, in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighbourhood, it is a private, non-commercial initiative envisioned as an integral part of the cultural and civic fabric of Chicago, as well as a new kind of arts space and cultural resource. While the interiors of the building were brought down to expose the concrete, the masonry shell was kept intact. Before laying down the foundation for novel interiors, a supporting canvas had to be erected to prevent the original frame of the building from turning to dust. This ‘support system’ for the art avenue was created with new steel and reinforced concrete within the perimeter of the old façade.

The new interiors of the building| Wrightwood 659| Tadao Ando| STIR
The new interiors of the building Image Credit: Courtesy of Wrightwood 659

The entry of the reconfigured space leads to a three-storey atrium spanning the height of the building. Then one comes across a grand stairway in concrete, which ascends to the second and third floor. Upon moving to the upper floors, one comes across lobbies and galleries with paintings on the walls coated in pristine white. The third floor, an elevated double-height area, can serve as an informal stage. The architect has also added a new rooftop structure, providing a contemplative north art-viewing terrace and a city skyline vista from the south terrace.

A futuristic climate control system has also been incorporated to ensure the visitors’ comfort. A web of thermal connections between the new steel covering and the old masonry wall was also provided to scale the temperature and the humidity. The space has been built in a way that it can illuminate the neighbourhood through Ando’s poetic treatment of natural light.

  • The entrance to the building| Wrightwood 659| Tadao Ando| STIR
    The entrance to the building Image Credit: Courtesy of Wrightwood 659
  • The grand staircase| Wrightwood 659| Tadao Ando| STIR
    The grand staircase Image Credit: Courtesy of Wrightwood 659
  • The new interiors of Wrightwood 659| Wrightwood 659| Tadao Ando| STIR
    The new interiors of Wrightwood 659 Image Credit: Courtesy of Wrightwood 659

Wrightwood 659 was officially inaugurated with an exhibition (October 12-December 15, 2018) exploring the relationship between the works of Tadao Ando and Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. Projected in two sections, one each for the respective architects, the exhibition Ando and Le Corbusier: Masters of Architecture was curated by Eric Mumford, Rebecca John Voyles, and architectural historian Dan Whittaker. On display were more than 100 Le Corbusier drawings, photographs, and models on loan from various art galleries along with models of some of Ando's most important commissions. These were supplemented by 106 small models of Le Corbusier's architectural works made by students of Ando.

The exhibition traced how significant Le Corbusier’s work has been in shaping Ando’s approach and philosophy towards architecture.

  • The inaugural exhibition Ando and Le Corbusier: Masters of Architecture| Wrightwood 659| Tadao Ando| STIR
    The inaugural exhibition Ando and Le Corbusier: Masters of Architecture Image Credit: Courtesy of Wrightwood 659
  • Ando and Le Corbusier: Masters of Architecture at the Wrightwood 659| Wrightwood 659| Tadao Ando| STIR
    Ando and Le Corbusier: Masters of Architecture at the Wrightwood 659 Image Credit: Courtesy of Wrightwood 659
  • Drawings, photographs, and models on display at the inaugural exhibition| Wrightwood 659| Tadao Ando| STIR
    Drawings, photographs, and models on display at the inaugural exhibition Image Credit: Courtesy of Wrightwood 659

In a city rich with art institutions and internationally known for its architecture, Wrightwood 659 is a site for both intimate experiences of art and architecture, and thoughtful engagement with the pressing social issues of our time.

Wrightwood 659 will host exhibitions generally alternating between socially engaged art and explorations in architecture and design. The Gallery does not possess a collection and is not intended to be a collecting organisation.

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About Author

Palak Maheshwari

Palak Maheshwari

As standing on the first step of structuring herself, Palak seeks avenues that can serve as an outlet for her creative energies. A commerce graduate and an avid reader, she has been working as an intern for STIR. Her ‘outside’ approach towards architecture and design reflects as a fresh perspective in her work.

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