The Chicago Architecture Biennial celebrates the art form in venues throughout the city.

By Ann Binlot
October 13, 2015
Spencer McNeil

Chicago’s legendary architecture was born of tragedy: when the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 burned down much of the city’s central business district, it left a blank canvas that would one day be filled with buildings by esteemed architects such as William Le Baron Jenney, Daniel Burnham, Louis H. Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Skidmore Owings & Merrill.

Today the storied city is the backdrop for the Chicago Arcitecture Biennial (CAB). Titled “The State of the Art of Architecture,” the multiple-venue exhibit opened on October 3, and will be on view through January 3, 2016. Although the event’s inaugural weekend attracted a number or architecture insiders, including architects like Sou Fujimoto, David Adjaye, and Mark Lee, it was also popular among Chicago residents and visitors interested in learning more about the field.

Chicago Architecture Biennial

The multi-platform exhibition presents the work of more than 60 participants in seven distinct venues. If you’re only in the Windy City for a few days, start out at the Chicago Cultural Center, one of the city’s architectural gems and the former home of the city’s central library. As the focal point of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the cultural center presents displays of models, architectural solutions, and forecasts presented in myriad forms. For example, Amsterdam-based Rietveld Architecture-Art-Affordances (RAAAF) presents “The End of Sitting” a 3-D, life-sized, hands-on exhibit that replaces typical office desks and seating with a sculpture-esque alternative. Another striking exhibit displays a visual presentation of 1970s Southern California design as seen through a cultivated archive of university library slides from an avant-garde group of Los Angeles architects who called themselves Environmental Communications.

Chicago Architecture Biennial

Over at the Art Institute of Chicago, the exhibit “Making Place: The Architecture of David Adjaye” highlights the work of Adjaye, the British architect who many speculate will receive the commission to design Barack Obama’s presidential library. Could this be a way for the Windy City to become acquainted with Adjaye’s work? Visitors will discover models of many of Adjaye’s projects, like the Moscow School of Management Skolkova, the residential complex Sugar Hill in Harlem, and the Wakefield Market Hall, as well as the Washington Skeleton Side Chair and Washington Corona Coffee Table that he designed for Knoll.

Walk around Lake Michigan in Millennium Park to check out the winners of CAB’s kiosk competitions. Four lakefront kiosks—a nod to the Chicago Park District kiosks that provide food, retail, and recreational services to the park’s visitors—dot the lakeshore, including a winning entry from Ultramoderne made with cross-laminated timber, a carbon-negative material heralded for its structural strength as well as its aesthetic properties.

Chicago Architecture Biennial

Barbara Kasten’s survey at the Graham Foundation in the Gold Coast neighborhood (“Stages”), traces the Chicago artist’s five-decade career and the influence architecture had on her work. And on the South Side, check out the Stony Island Arts Bank, a former bank that Chicago artist Theaster Gates has converted into a cultural center and archive that includes the record collection of the late house-music legend Frankie Knuckles and the library of Johnson Publishing Company.

The Chicago Architecture Biennial is on view through January 3, 2016. For more information, visit