Matthew Wessner

It's not just for architecture buffs.

April 23, 2015

The Windy City is widely considered the birthplace of the modern skyscraper, so perhaps it’s no surprise that Chicago will soon welcome the country’s first-ever architecture biennial—and also the biggest architecture show ever put on in North America.

With an advisory committee that includes industry giants like Frank Gehry and Jeanne Gang, the show kicks off on Oct. 3 and lasts three months. Yesterday, co-artistic directors Sarah Herda and Joseph Grima announced the lineup, and let us be the first to tell you: this show will be well worth trudging through Chicago’s chillier winter temps. Book your tickets now (and get the parka ready while you’re at it). Here’s a look at what’s in store:

What’s an architecture biennial anyway?

There hasn’t been an event like this on American soil—ever. But the founders took a page from of a 1977 conference called State of the Art of Architecture, where architects of that time presented post-modern visions to represent their vision for where the field might be headed. This event will similarly ask architects to put forth their visions for the future of architecture.

Does that mean the exhibits will feature lots of sleek, glassy building sketches?

Not at all. The featured projects all aim to solve problems in today’s society, opening access to healthcare in Burkina Faso, re-creating office spaces for people who are over sitting, or finding ways to repurpose abandoned gas stations into cultural centers in the English countryside. In other words, this is a look at how architecture can change the way the world works, not just the way the world looks.

Who’s involved?

Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, for starters—this is all his vision. But now we also know that 65-plus diverse architects from all around the world will be participating. You might recognize big names like Jeanne Gang and Didier Faustino.

Where’s It Happening?

The Chicago Cultural Center, also known as The People’s Palace, will be the main hub for the show—it’s the first time the full building is being used for a single exhibition. But you’ll also find events at Millennium Park, at the Graham Foundation, as part of the Chicago Film Festival, the Stony Island Arts Bank, and the Art Institute of Chicago, among other spots around the city. Basically, you can’t miss it.

What’s It Cost To Get In?

The events will largely be free, and whereas most architecture biennials around the world are relatively limited to industry folks, these will connect the general public to the masterminds at work—which promises to make for an unparalleled experience.

What If I Miss It?

This is poised to be the first celebration of architecture in America, but not the last. And Chicago itself will be changed as a result of the show. A competition to rethink kiosks along the waterfront will result in four uniquely designed concession stands, to be displayed in Millennium Park during the show and then moved to the waterfront for perpetuity. But really, you don’t want to miss this.

Nikki Ekstein is an assistant editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

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