You Say Biennial, The Mayor Says Biennale


Chicago Cultural Center. Courtesy Chicago Architecture Center


Is it a biennial? Or should we call it a Biennale?

A slip of the tongue by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, which turned into a joke, revealed that as this thoroughly American city, recognized for its abundance of significant architecture, prepares to host the third Chicago Architecture Biennial (yes, that's part of the official usage, vs the Italian word for every other year) it hopes to engage with a global audience in talking about new concepts and practices in the field. 

Last week the Chicago Architecture Biennial announced the first group of contributors to the 2019 edition, which will open this fall. Titled ...and other such stories, the biennial will form an expansive and multi-faceted exploration of the field of architecture and the built environment. 

At the event at the Chicago Cultural Center on Thursday, a large crowd came in from the rain to gather in Preston Bradley Hall under the morning's stand–in for the sun, the intricate and illuminated Tiffany dome. The outgoing Mayor Emanuel kept things light, reminding the crowd that they were visiting Commissioner of Cultural Affairs Mark Kelly's 'house', and that Kelly most likely has the nicer office between the two. Emanuel went on to emphasize that spaces and built environments are important in the lives of many and in multiple contexts. The Chicago Architecture Biennial is a means of bringing culture to the citizens who live in all 77 neighborhoods of the city. This event, said Emanuel, puts Chicago on the global stage along with Paris, London, Berlin, LA and New York, among many others. 

© Chicago Architecture Biennial / Marcin Cymmer, 2019

When Kelly spoke at the event, he shared that in thinking about this next CAB he wanted others to remember that Chicago has made notable efforts to make the city a space for conversation and public creativity in recent years. He cited how the Chicago River has been reclaimed as a public space, the River Walk has been completed, as well as the 606 Trail. More pedestrian bridges have been built. Groundwork has been laid in order to foster ideas and public contributions from area artists like Theaster Gates, Nick Cave, and Hebru Brantley. For Kelly a critical component of these examples is that they are public and they are free. They allow us all to explore and understand our common ground.

More opportunities lie ahead for dialogue that can not only benefit Chicago but other urban communities. Dare we say that the mayor must have learned a critical lesson about the true value of public art last year when the public loudly and effectively cried out to prevent the sale of Kerry James Marshall's Knowledge and Wonder

Now Director Yesomi Umolu and co-curators Sepake Angiama and Paulo Tavares are tasked with overseeing the group of contributors who will produce meaningful new commissioned projects for the Biennial. Early highlights are:

• Reflections on landscapes belonging and sovereignty that challenge existing, narrow definitions of land as property and commodity from Wolff Architects (Capetown, South Africa), Territorial Agency – John Palmesino and Ann-Sofi Ronnskog (London, UK) and Theaster Gates (Chicago). 

• Explorations of sites of memory – and the politics of remembering and/or forgetting in contested spaces – by contributors CAMP (Mumbai, India), Center for Spatial Research (New York, NY), MASS Design Group (Boston, MA/Poughkeepsie, NY/Kigali, Rwanda), Tanya Lukin Linklater and Tiffany Shaw-Collinge (Ontario, Canada and Alberta, Canada) and Wednelien van Oldenborgh (Rotterdam, Netherlands)

The Chicago Architecture Biennial is the largest architecture and design exhibition in North America. The exhibition is free and open to the public. Over the coming months the Biennial will announce the full list of contributors and key programming for this year's edition. 

Whatever you call it, the Chicago Architecture Biennial promises to construct a provocative and engaging means of welcoming visitors from around the world in just a few months. 


The Biennial will take place from September 19 through January 5, 2020, and the opening with align with the eighth annual EXPO CHICAGO, which will run September 19–22, 2019 at Navy Pier.

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