'Make New History,' the second Chicago Architecture Biennial, brings the focus back to square one by Christopher Hawthorne
Architecture has taken an extrospective turn in recent years, looking outside itself for new ideas and to measure its progress. Or maybe just to feel more useful in a world flooding, burning and generally coming apart at the seams. Among its most visible and lauded figures have been dedicated populists like Chile's Alejandro Aravena. It has made engagement — political, humanitarian and environmental — a key priority.
"Make New History," the second edition of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, shifts the focus back inward. This elegant and densely layered exhibition, organized by the Los Angeles architects Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee, argues that architecture can (and should) find the motivation for new work within the discipline itself, within its own stores of self-knowledge and tradition.
As the title suggests, "Make New History" takes as its explicit theme the return to the past, to architectural precedent, that's increasingly a touchstone for younger architects. It's true that emerging and midcareer firms are these days producing work that's grounded in history — and even prehistory, with buildings that look less neoclassical than primitive or primordial — to a degree not seen since the 1970s and '80s.
In another echo of the 2015 show, this one makes a point of breaking out of the Cultural Center and positioning events around the city. During the opening weekend there were performance pieces at Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House in Plano, Ill. (where L.A.'s Gerard & Kelly sent dancers careening through the interior, down its travertine steps and across its lawn) and at Chicago's Garfield Park Conservatory (where a meditation on air, breathing and the environment from the New York firm SO-IL and artist Ana Prvacki, with music by the Los Angeles composer Veronika Krausas, hid four musicians inside thin, white prophylactic suits that suggested a charmingly low-tech combination of mascot outfits, air filters and the gear beekeepers wear).