Chicago Biennale: Architecture as Cultural Production

ARCH 574 | Fall 2017
Associate Professor Therese Tierney


The Chicago Architecture Biennial provides a platform for groundbreaking architectural projects and spatial experiments that demonstrate how creativity and innovation can radically transform our lived experience --  Joseph Grima and Sarah Herda, directors of the 2015 biennial. 

This graduate design studio creates an architectural fiction – first, that the Chicago Biennale Foundation requires a new permanent location in the West Loop and second, that the Pritzker Foundation will fund the design and construction of the foundation.

Within that speculative framework, the proposals presented herein represent our reflections on the future of museum design.   For Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, design can be used as a tool to create not only things, but also ideas. In that sense, design allows for reflection on how things could be—to imagine possible futures in order to foster greater discussion and debate. Speculative design also challenges assumptions and preconceptions about the role architecture plays in everyday life, primarily to make us think in new ways. But speculation is not only about raising awareness, exposing assumptions, provoking action, or sparking debate, it can also be entertaining in an intellectual sort of way, similar to literature or film.  

Over the course of the semester, students took part in a global discussion on the future of the discipline through participation in the Biennale’s constellation of exhibitions, full-scale installations, and events.  Most importantly, they focused on how the definition of art had shifted from “artifact” to “experience” over the last few decades. Consider for example, Olifar Eliason’s “Weather” exhibition at the Tate Modern where viewers were simultaneously participants in the artwork.  Noted art historian Rosalind Krauss described that conceptual shift as an expanded field of operations, nonetheless, it raised the question, what will museums look like in the future?

For historical background, we attended the Chicago Arts EXPO and DIALOGUES Symposium on Italian Radical Design of the 1970s, including speculative architects such as Superstudio who were critical of prevailing social values and design ideologies.  A similar context sparked Archigram’s visionary projects from the 1960-70s embodied by a hands-on, DIY culture with a pragmatic mix of simple technology and social distribution networks.   The Metabolists were also a source of inspiration as a means to explore new formal strategies based on computational/combinatory practices. 

More importantly, students were encouraged to make observations of the world at large -- a world that is incredibly complex; one where our social relations, desires, hopes and fears are very different from those in the twentieth century.  By applying design fiction as a device, this graduate design studio provided a mix of theory, practice, and experimentation as a means to reflect on the future of spatial production.