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This is a rehearsal of the built environment under construction

Architecture, in Chicago as everywhere else, is big, heavy and permanent. Think steel skyscrapers, sub-brick flats, and their infrastructural equivalents of asphalt parking lots and concrete highway overpasses. But the fifth edition of the Chicago Architecture Biennial is filled with flexible, temporary materials like cardboard tubes, metal scaffolding, polystyrene blocks, translucent fabrics and more. What does this have to do with designing cities?

Apparently there is a lot. And “CAB 5: It’s a Rehearsal” offers a refreshing, eclectic and unmissable exploration of the built environment always in process.

This basic idea is being explored in dozens of locations across Chicago, from the Loop to West Garfield Park, from Englewood to Little India. Some are small independent projects, others are multi-level group exhibitions, and as has become the norm at international arts festivals, it is almost impossible for any visitor to experience them all. This year’s biennial is huge, with opening dates announced since the end of September and closing dates stretching back to February 2024. It is also very popular to choose a collective consisting of a local quartet as artistic directors. avery r. youthAndrew Schachman, Faheem Majeed and Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford, who worked together on the Floating Museum.

The Cultural Centre, CAB’s traditional headquarters, is full of diverse and exciting examples of the city as a practice space. If you could only visit one place, this is it. For those who think literally, there are numerous rehearsal spaces throughout the building, such as LOT-EK’s “Theatre for One,” a converted roadhouse stage set for a single performer and a single audience, or WOJR’s “Grey Veil.” . A 23-foot tiered meshwork with passes by Red Clay Dance Company, Era Footwork and others. Wayfinding signs are supported on concrete blocks and graphics are cleverly redesigned at every opportunity.

The spatial reshaping involved Barkow Leibinger transforming the Cultural Center’s ostentatious lobby through new walls, columns and arches constructed from recycled cardboard tubes connected by web straps. Leticia Pardo’s quixotic scaffolding used throughout the building serves as stand-alone exhibits for other participants’ work and as a sculpture in its own right. Countless lengths of discarded black rubber pipe winding towards the south stairwell, lined with magnificent mosaics by Asim Waqif, are one kind of decoration, contrasting excess with another.

"pretty dilapidated" By Asim Waqif at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Architects often experiment with things through models and dioramas, and there’s plenty here for visitors to consider. Some will soon become reality: The ground floor features a full-size mock-up of a plaza planned for Marion, Indiana, commemorating the 1930 lynching that prompted Billie Holiday to sing “Strange Fruit,” the inspiration for an artistically infused fruit. Specially ordered tree for the garden. Some are hilariously terrible ideas, like the three-story awning Para Project proposes for the Cultural Center’s Washington Street entrance. Others are purely imaginary; The transformation of the stately Yates Hall into a minimalist arts park, landscaping with clear white Geofoam sheets, polystyrene blocks forming the hidden structure beneath the actual landscape architecture, will be reused by its creator, Site Design. , for future projects.

Standouts among the sculptures displayed above all this froth include one of Ugo Rondinone’s monolithic figures that appear barely carved from lapis lazuli rock, and Ghanaian master craftsman Paa Joe’s fantastic coffin in the form of the SR Crown designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Living room. Chris Bradley’s giant jumble of bronze sticks, painted to resemble pretzel sticks glued together with gum, are balanced not far from the plump legs of Tschabalala Self, who poses in high-heeled boots atop a dazzling, neon-yellow milk carton. The strangely empathetic, almost human trio is made of sand, rocks and shower accessories by Oren Pinhassi.

Speculative, experimental and futuristic examples are scattered throughout the Cultural Center, as well as alternative visions of what has been and what could be. A series of artist books by Deb Sokolow suggest wild conspiracies about famous architects and their buildings through blueprint-like illustrations. Depave Chicago is submitting plans to remove 10,000 square feet of asphalt surrounding Englewood Montessori School and replace it with a green campus. Anupama Kundoo Atelier is an example of small domed houses built in Puducherry, India, built as ovens and baked to a state of durability, a labor-intensive but highly sustainable and economical process. Oneida architect Chris Cornelius envisions an angular pavilion featuring walls of rattles and animal skins, connections to the sky and ground, and other forms of Native modernity.

CAB 5’s other venues are mixed.

The most successful of these is the group exhibition at the Graham Foundation, which can be considered the sociopolitical R&D wing of the biennial. Meticulously executed projects at the historic Gold Coast estate include Larissa Fassler’s large-scale work, which sympathetically maps Manchester, New Hampshire, using everything from fried chicken prices to school dropout rates and homelessness statistics to spatialize the various interconnected crises facing the city. Includes drawings. Hours of precious time “You are the Voice; We are his echo,” a research room assembled by the temporary studio and his numerous collaborators who used film, photography, artists’ books and more to document and participate in the Jawlani resistance to the occupation of the Golan Heights in the Middle East.

The Neubauer Collegium features a cute, silly giant pizza sculpture by the Viennese collective Gelitin, dressed in red and yellow second-hand clothes and with heads popping out of half a dozen holes when participants are so inclined. Postmodern architectural marvel James R. Thompson Center It fails epically as a site because its large, colorful central courtyard overwhelms everything displayed there, regardless of individual merit.

A handful of individual projects on the printed CAB 5 visitor map failed to materialize as planned. Andrea Carlson’s tent did not fit in the Gertrude Bernstein Memorial Garden and is being moved to a yet-to-be-announced outdoor area. Connecting Kiel Moe’s sauna to the Cultural Center’s power grid was difficult. Feda Wardak’s public artwork for Grow Greater Englewood evolved from three 50-foot water towers to one 40-foot beacon after community review; This entailed heavy financial and permitting challenges that have not yet been met. Similarly, red tape has so far prevented “Shamiana,” SpaceShift Collective’s painstaking redesign of the confluence of the Devon and Artesian, from becoming the more permanent facility it had hoped for.

But all this is to be expected from a truly ambitious and forward-thinking initiative, especially CAB 5. There is a rehearsal for this too.

Lori Waxman is a freelance critic.

“CAB 5: This Is a Rehearsal” runs at venues throughout Chicagoland through February 2024. For specific closing dates, times and addresses, visit: chicagoarchitecturebiennial.org

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