Chicago Architecture Biennial – What Will Be Our Legacy?

CABHosting America’s first Architecture Biennial is a great honor for all of us practicing architecture in this global city. At the same time, it implies an enormous responsibility. It comes with the pressure of living up to Chicago’s reputation of being the birthplace of the skyscraper and one of the cradles of modern architecture. In many ways, it is today’s version of the 1893 World’s Fair, which provided a platform for design dialogue, criticism, innovation and, most importantly, exposure. Exposing and engaging the public in the discourse surrounding architecture and the public realm, raising awareness – and expectations – of the built environment is a powerful proposition. Beyond that, empowering the public with the understanding that everyone is responsible and capable of shaping our world, has the potential for a limitless positive rippling effect.

What is most immediately exciting about the Chicago Architecture Biennial is the potential for a democratic exposure of world class art and architecture to all of our city’s residents – the possibility of a diverse, multi-cultural, multi-generational melting pot of creativity, ideas and critical involvement. Our firm’s mission statement is rooted in the desire to bring good architecture to every neighborhood we serve, and we have experienced first-hand the powerful influence that uplifting spaces can have in a community’s self-perception. The educational component of the Biennial, via field trips, classes and instructive programs for teachers and students, is expected to expose thousands of Chicago-area youth to art, design and architecture – for many, this will be their first experience with the most fundamental character of our city. The repercussions of such exposure are unpredictable and immeasurable, but will absolutely influence the city’s next generation of creative thinkers and doers.

What is most critically necessary and opportune is the exploration of solutions to the myriad environmental issues we face today and in our immediate future. It is our responsibility as space makers and problem solvers to find effective, inspiring and forward thinking solutions to the environmental crises we face. A comprehensive assessment of The State of the Art of Architecture cannot be complete if this challenge is not addressed for all Chicago residents and all citizens of the globe. Intelligent, outspoken, innovative, outlandish ideas need to be discussed during this forum, resulting in new inspired solutions that can be tailored and implemented the world over to repair our environmental infrastructure.

A new manifesto combining social and environmental healing can be our legacy – a united, optimistic voice that embraces diversity, focuses on empowering the public, and proposes that a vibrant, healthy planet is not only possible, it is also our highest responsibility as shapers of the built environment. The world is watching – let’s respond to the call.

-By Maria Pellot, Associate Principal at UrbanWorks