Chicago Architecture Biennial 2021 looks at the idea of the 'The Available City'

The fourth edition of the event, stewarded by Artistic Director David Brown and with an initial list of 29 contributors, hopes to transform vacant lots in urban areas into communal spaces.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : May 17, 2021

The fourth edition of the Chicago Architecture Biennial is set to commence in September 2021. The event will build on the foundations laid by its predecessors from 2015, 2017, and 2019. As one of the largest architecture and design exhibition in North America, the Chicago Architecture Biennial has been an incubator of experimental ideas and forward-thinking research. In this edition, Artistic Director, David Brown, a celebrated researcher, educator, and designer, has christened the theme of this biennial as 'The Available City’. Envisaged as a framework to facilitate collaborative design approaches that reimagine urban spaces, the premise invites critical conversations on the degree of inclusivity and transparency in how cities are designed.

Following his appointment last year, Brown stated in an official press release, “Platforms such as the Biennial offer a unique space for exploring and experimenting with new ideas and projects. Since 2015, collaborations with CAB have helped shape The Available City and I look forward to how this next phase of the project will bring new perspectives to my work with community organisations and residents while also broadening the conversation - as amplified by current issues - about the role that collective space can have in cities around the world today”. Based at the School of Architecture at the University of Chicago in Illinois, Brown's work investigates non-hierarchical, flexible, and variable approaches to urban design. He has lectured at Columbia University’s Center for Jazz Studies and the Politecnico di Milano. His work has been exhibited at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2012, Chicago Cultural Center Expo 72 (2013), and the 2015 Chicago Architecture Biennial.

Designer, researcher and educator David Brown is this edition’s Artistic Director | Chicago Architecture Biennial 2021 | STIRworld
Designer, researcher and educator David Brown is this edition’s Artistic Director Image: © Chicago Architecture Biennial/ Nathan Keay, 2020

Brown's extensive body of research on the inventory of vacant lots in Chicago formed the basis for this edition's theme, having germinated and evolved in the time since it was first presented at the Chicago Biennial in 2015. Currently numbering over 10,000, these vacant, city-owned lots are largely concentrated within Chicago's South and West sides. Brown aims to transform these underutilised zones through an ongoing urban design proposal that brings together residents, architects, and designers to collaborate in crafting spaces that meet the requirements of the city's neighbourhoods.

This year’s theme, ‘The Available City’, is borne out of Brown’s research into the inventory of Chicago’s vacant lots | Chicago Architecture Biennial 2021 | STIRworld
This year’s theme, ‘The Available City’, is borne out of Brown’s research into the inventory of Chicago’s vacant lots Image: © Chicago Architecture Biennial/ Nathan Keay, 2020

Speaking on what inspired this year theme, Brown explained, "The Available City results from a long interest in the landscape of vacant spaces that are so prevalent in many cities across the US, and beyond. The 2021 edition asks us to imagine the transformative possibilities of collective spaces within those vacant spaces through a process of exchange and collaboration between designers and local residents. I look forward to the conversations introduced by the 2021 contributors given their global perspectives and connections”. Investigating the spatiality of pertinent topics such as health, sustainability, equity, and racial justice, this iteration of the Biennial seeks to encourage discussions about how the convergence of architecture, urbanism, and design can resolve issues within these realms while providing a platform to incubate ideas and foster innovation.

Soil Lab Team - L to R: Anne Dorthe Vester, Maria Bruun, James Albert Martin, Eibhlín Ní Chathasaigh | Chicago Architecture Biennial 2021 | STIRworld
Soil Lab team - L to R: Anne Dorthe Vester, Maria Bruun, James Albert Martin, Eibhlín Ní Chathasaigh Image: © Chicago Architecture Biennial/ Benita Marcussen (left) and Rob de Boer (right), 2019

To this end, the Chicago Architecture Biennial 2021 has brought together a diverse set of global design perspectives from contributors in cities such as Dublin, Paris, Cape Town, Caracas, Chicago, Copenhagen, Basel, and Tokyo. The current list of project sites for the event includes the Chicago locales of North Lawndale, Woodlawn, Bronzeville, Pilsen, South Loop, the Loop, and Edgewater. The key idea is to encourage collaborations between contributors, to activate spaces such as community gardens, decommissioned schools, and storefronts, in addition to vacant lots, through involved, community-driven processes.

Additionally, the event organisers have also entered into a close partnership with the Danish Arts Foundation on one of the Biennial's highlight features - selected from among the many entries to an open-call competition. Won by an international collaboration between designers based in Copenhagen and Dublin, working along with Chicago natives, the collective has be dubbed 'Soil Lab’. The project will occupy a lot on the North Lawndale section of the festival and consist primarily of workshops and structures grounded in brick, an integral element in the architecture of both Chicago and Denmark.

  • Matri-Archi(tecture) L-R Khensani de Klerk, Solange Mbanefo, Tapiwa Manase, Tshego Mako, Alisha Morenike Fisher | Chicago Architecture Biennial 2021 | STIRworld
    Matri-Archi(tecture) team - L to R: Khensani de Klerk, Solange Mbanefo, Tapiwa Manase, Tshego Mako, Alisha Morenike Fisher Image: © Chicago Architecture Biennial/ Khensani de Klerk, 2020
  • in care of Black Women | Chicago Architecture Biennial 2021 | STIRworld
    In care of Black Women Image: © Chicago Architecture Biennial/ Marcus Yarbrough - Andrea Yarbrough

Other announced commissions include a joint venture between Matri-Archi(tecture) - an intersectional collective that empowers and brings together African women of colour in African cities, and in care of Black Women - a placemaking initiative that forges economies of care. Furthermore, Studio Barnes with Shawhin Roudbari and MAS Context will work in conjunction with Open Architecture Chicago to investigate a suggested 15 block greenway under the Chicago Transit Authority’s Pink Line that will transform vacant areas beneath raised train tracks and link four stations in Lawndale.

Germane Barnes of Studio Barnes | Chicago Architecture Biennial 2021 | STIRworld
Germane Barnes of Studio Barnes Image: © Chicago Architecture Biennial/ Germane Barnes, 2020

Chicago Architecture Biennial, the independent nonprofit organisation behind the event from its inception, has facilitated projects by over 350 artists, architects, and designers from more than 40 countries throughout the previous three editions. Regarding this year's theme and lineup, Jack Guthman, Chairman of Board for the Chicago Architecture Biennial, said, “The timely questions posed by 'The Available City' and the quality of the contributors who will explore the issues presented validate the Biennial’s decision to produce an exposition in 2021 notwithstanding the uncertainties of the moment".

Gensler - Stone Soup Group | Chicago Architecture Biennial 2021 | STIRworld
Gensler - Stone Soup Group Image: © Chicago Architecture Biennial/ Gensler - Stone Soup Group, 2018

Intending to maintain engagement with its audiences through a new year-round programming model, the Biennial's organisers will reveal further information regarding additional contributors and initiatives such as youth workshops, conversations, and community events in the months leading up to its start date. The fourth edition of the Chicago Architecture Biennial will open on September 17, 2021, with free, accessible public program sites all over Chicago and additional coverage available on digital platforms. Honouring the city's legacy of pioneering advances in the domains of architecture and design, the event aims to imagine a future for the built environment that is community-driven, equitable, and sustainable.

Giovanni Bellotti and Alessandra Covini of Studio Ossidiana | Chicago Architecture Biennial 2021 | STIRworld
Giovanni Bellotti and Alessandra Covini of Studio Ossidiana Image: © Chicago Architecture Biennial/ Arthur Schoonenberg, 2019

The initial list of 29 contributors includes:

Ana Miljački - Critical Broadcasting Lab at MIT (Boston); Ania Jaworska (Chicago); Atelier Bow-Wow (Tokyo); Borderless Studio (Chicago); Central Park Theater Restoration Committee (Chicago); Christophe Hutin Architecture (Bordeaux); Departamento del Distrito (Mexico City); Drawing Architecture Studio (Beijing); El Cielo (Mexico City); Englewood Nature Trail (Chicago); Enlace Arquitectura + Ciudad Laboratorio (Caracas); fala (Porto); Gensler - Stone Soup Group (Los Angeles + Chicago); Hood Design Studio (Oakland) in care of Black women (Chicago); Jill Desimini (Cambridge); Matri-Archi(tecture) (Basel + Cape Town); Open Architecture + Under the Grid (Chicago); Outpost Office (Columbus); Port (Chicago + Philadelphia); ProjectHOOD (Chicago); Riff Studio (New York City); Soil Lab (Copenhagen + Dublin); studioAPT (Ann Arbor); Studio Barnes with Shawhin Roudbari and MAS Context (Miami); Studio Ossidiana (Rotterdam + Venice); The Bittertang Farm, Clearing (Chicago) + Island Center (Bainbridge Island), THE OPEN WORKSHOP (San Francisco + Toronto), Urban American City (New York City).

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