February 7, 2019

Chicago Architecture Biennial to Explore Spatial Inustices from Global, Indigenous, and Local Perspectives

The city of Chicago, courtesy of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. Photography by Iwan Baan.

The Chicago Architecture Biennial, which had the largest North American architecture and design exhibition in 2017, has revealed the curatorial focus of its 2019 edition. Titled “…and other such stories”, this year’s exhibition will focus on the concept of spatial injustices in architecture and other applications of the built environment.

The Biennial’s 2019 edition artistic director, Yesomi Umolu, announced Tuesday the title of this year’s edition along with four areas of inquiry that will guide participants’ submissions. A yearlong global research initiative led by Umolu and co-curators Sepake Angiama (an educator and curator) and Paulo Tavares (an architect) informed these areas of inquiry.

The first, ‘No Land Beyond’, is inspired by indigenous peoples’ approach to nature and ecology, transcending settler constructs of land ownership. The second, ‘Appearances and Erasures’, considers the different contexts attached to monuments, memorials, and social histories with respect to differing communities. Finally, ‘Rights and Reclamations’ and ‘Common Ground’, together consider rights, advocacy work, and civic purpose in architecture, particularly as these themes relate to affordable and equitable housing.

Art Director Yesomi Umolu presenting the theme of the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial. Photography by Casey Kelbaugh.

Umolu, Angiama, and Tavares spent much of 2018 conducting research in Vancouver, Johannesburg, and São Paulo, in addition to ongoing research in the city of Chicago. 

Central to Umolu’s research were the concepts of indigenous rights, ecological activism, and housing equity, which informed ‘No Land Beyond’ and ‘Common Ground’. Umolu partnered with local non-profit 221a and interviewed Tlicho Dene First Nations architect Ouri Scott, Sto:lo land activist Kwitsel Tatel, Denesuline First Nations architect and FormLine Architecture founder Alfred Waugh, and Squamish artist T’uy’tant Cease Wyss.

Angiama’s research in partnership with the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, informed the Biennial’s approach to architecture and memory in contested spaces, particularly in the context of the country’s painful past of apartheid. 

In São Paulo, Tavares partnered with housing rights movement Occupation 9 del Julho, architecture group O Grupo Inteiro, and architecture school Escola de Cidade to research the relationship between architects, activists, and indigenous communities to the construct of space as a means for social justice and civic participation.

“Through these engagements, we have drawn out a myriad of stories about how lived experiences across global communities, cities, territories, and ecologies resonate with architectural and space-making practices,” said Umolu.

The Biennial will be free and open to the public, running from September 19, 2019 to January 5, 2020. The exhibition will begin in the Chicago Cultural Center and run throughout the city of Chicago and will feature new commissions, residencies, partner projects, and public programs.

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