Chicago Architecture Biennale 2021: Highlights


What to see at the 2021 Chicago Architecture Biennale

Wondering what to see at the 2021 Chicago Architecture Biennale? We caught up with Art Director David Brown ahead of the opening later this month and got a glimpse of what will be on display.

As face-to-face events in some parts of the world slowly start to return (with Milan Design Week and London Open Houses already causing a stir), Chicago’s architectural scene is gearing up for its own celebration. For the 2021 Chicago Architecture Biennale, the festival’s fourth annual, artistic director David Brown draws on a rich pool of contributors and subjects, creating a layered, diverse and exciting city-wide spectacle, exploiting critical ideas, such as urban and social sustainability. , vacant spaces, diversity and community. First-hand installation experience and meaningful speech are at the heart of the iteration of this biennial.

With his program, Brown develops the theme The city available, his entry for the inaugural 2015 Biennale, where the vacant lots served as his muse to develop “an experience of new possibilities on how to explore and activate space”. In connection with this subject (and to adapt to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic) the biennial has migrated outside the traditional headquarters of the Cultural Center of the Loop, placing the vast majority of entrances in the city’s neighborhoods, especially on the south and west sides. , with their wealth of vacant lots.

Installation by Soil Lab. Image: Eibhlín Ní Chathasaigh, James Albert Martin, Maria Bruun and Anne Dorthe Vester

We gathered to learn more about the highlights of this edition, and while emphasizing that the Biennale is a dynamic work in progress, Brown names Salon and Under the Grid, pieces that tackle issues like urban agriculture and neighborhood gatherings, like some of its must-sees – while maintaining that visitors should of course try to visit all the sites, if possible. By browsing the preliminary information of the festival, GRAPE, Invest South / West and Epic academy also feel like outstanding designs and concepts, speaking of ideas of home ownership, performance and fairness and artistry.

Here is our pick of some of the finest facilities to visit during the 2021 Chicago Architecture Biennale.


This is a collaboration between Chicago architectural firm The Bittertang Farm and CCA Academy, a private non-denominational high school in Chicago’s North Lawndale community. Salon invites engagement with urban agriculture and agriculture within the PermaPark garden, with an emphasis on health and well-being.

Under the grid

A 15-block stretch under the Pink Line ‘L’ train developed by Open Architecture Chicago and Freedom House, this project has two main components: Block Party and Cover the grid. The first is a collaboration between Miami-based Studio Barnes, Shawhin Roudbari (Colorado), MAS Context (Chicago) and the Westside Association for Community Action (WACA). It celebrates the rich history of block parties in Chicago’s western and southern neighborhoods. Block Party creates a space for programming and community gathering, anchored by a structure designed to mimic the explosive bounce houses that are staple at block parties.

during this time Cover the grid is comprised of architecturally scale urban paintings by GPS-guided robots that transform vacant land into landscapes for civic gatherings, inviting people to engage in unexpected civic space.


Organized by guest curator Asha Iman Veal with curatorial assistants Shannon Lin and Esraa Yousef, this play explores themes from Lorraine Hansberry’s classic 1959 play. A raisin in the sun – including first-time home ownership, gender dynamics within communities of color and generational dreams. With works by over 30 Chicago and international artists, GRAPE offers local and global perspectives on the “home”.

INVESTING South / West

These site-specific programs are led by artist-in-residence in four communities (Auburn Gresham, Austin, Englewood, and New City / Back of the Yards) and supported by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, strengthening an engagement on-going towards equity and access to the arts. The artists involved include (respectively for each community mentioned above) Dorian Sylvain, Antonia Ruppert, Eric Hotchkiss, and Fernando Ramirez and Project Onward.

Epic academy

This outdoor pavilion is constructed from sustainably sourced wood and designed as a classroom and event and performance space by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, in collaboration with Tsz Yan Ng and Wes McGee at Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning from the University of Michigan, using the robotic manufacturing technique.

The center will not hold by L’Atelier Ouvert. Image: Courtesy of the Open Workshop

As exciting and important as these topics may be, and as dynamic as the voices of their creators are, they are just a taste of what’s on offer at the 2021 Chicago Architecture Biennale. A plethora of events (pavilions, exhibitions, conferences, etc.) sprawl across the breadth and expanse of Chicago, making the entire city a large-scale architectural feast – one that tackles serious issues in a way, hopefully accessible, enjoyable and experiential. About thirty speakers from all over the world promise a varied and topical show which, depending on the main theme, spreads throughout the city.

‘The proposal of The city available is that any vacant land owned by the city could in fact be collective community-oriented spaces, ”says Brown. “What is important is that these lots are mainly located in disadvantaged neighborhoods. This type of collective space is motivated by reflection on the interests of organizations or residents of the neighborhood, and on how these ideas can manifest to create spaces or express themselves through spaces. §


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