Make New History: The 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial Will Look to the Past to Inspire Our Future

Katherine Allen Katherine Allen

The Chicago Architecture Biennial has named Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee of Johnston Marklee the art directors of the next event, which will run from September 16 to December 31, 2017. They take over this position from Sarah Herda and Joseph Grima, who led the widely praised inaugural event in 2015. Also announced was the appointment of Todd Palmer, formerly the director of the National Public Housing Museum, as the new Executive Director of the Chicago Architecture Biennial.

The theme of the upcoming event is “Make New History” and will explore the respective intersections of history and modernity and art and architecture.

“The first is more inwardly focused within the discipline [of architecture] and the second one is more outwardly focused,” explains Mark Lee. “Rather than showing the latest forms or the newest aesthetics, we will be focusing on the most innovative approaches that are deeply rooted in the history of architecture. We hope the biennial will be a platform and breeding ground for architects who embrace the continuity of the profession and believe in an evolutionary approach towards buildings and cities.”

Johnston Marklee; image via Architect Magazine

This is familiar turf for the Los Angeles–based architects, whose work has continually explored the relationship between design tradition and building technology. One such example is their Grid Is a Grid Is a Grid Is a Grid Is a Grid installation at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, which was completed to coincide with last year’s biennial. The piece was a sneak peek into the renovations they are leading at the MCA — a professional relationship that has brought them to Chicago on a near-monthly basis for the past two years.

Indeed, Johnston Marklee often collaborates with artists, graphic designers and writers, crafting an interdisciplinary professional approach that they see as analogous to the Chicago cultural landscape. “[The intersection of art and architecture] has been a longstanding interest in our own practice, but one that we see more and more converging nationally and internationally,” says Sharon Johnston. “It’s particularly relevant to embed these ideas in the next biennial given that the city of Chicago has been shaped in many ways by these relationships.”

The Chicago Cultural Center — seen here during the 2015 Biennial — will once again become a hotbed of architectural ideas; image via Architecture Chicago Plus.

This relationship will be emphasized by the fact that next year’s biennial is timed to align with EXPO CHICAGO, the International Exhibition of Contemporary and Modern Art. “Chicago will put art, design, planning and architecture at the center of discussion as people from around the world come here,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a key visionary in CAB’s establishment. If last year’s event is anything to go by, this is no exaggeration. Not only did participants in last year’s event hail from over 30 countries, but the event also drew crowds of more than half a million people.

“We want to really reiterate the sense honor we feel building on the tradition of the first biennial and the excellent work that Sarah Herda and Joseph Grima did expanding the discourse about contemporary architecture in a global way to the city of Chicago,” said Sharon Johnston. “This city was so ripe and ready to bring this conversation to America. So we look forward to continuing their work and hope to build up the standards that were set last year.”

CAB is again supported by sponsors SC Johnson and BP; top image via Chicago magazine.

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