Make New History: Chicago Architecture Biennial 2017 – Vertical City

Vertical City brings together 15 architects to revisit the 1922 Chicago Tribune Tower Competition that attracted 263 entries from the United States and around the world. Each entry included a rendered perspective from the same vantage point; these were later published as a report alongside a touring exhibition of drawings that stopped at various educational and cultural institutions in the US. The combination of print media, exhibition, and architecture in this instance effectively sealed the imagery of individual towers shown as a collection. The influence and reach of this particular project drove many responses and copies.

The 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial eschews drawings for the exhibition format. Each tower design is represented as a scaled model 16 feet high. The towers reflect formal explorations of the tower type: exquisite corpses or as-found objects with new scales and material tests.

Now, as brilliant as these models stand in the east hall of the historic Chicago Cultural Center, the simplest act of labeling these things was such a misstep. I was one of several journalists that assumed that the way these were labeled were in the order they appeared in the exhibition. Because there is so much information being presented at Biennials, a common way of capturing the information is taking a picture of the curatorial text and of the exhibition items. And because this was one of the few exhibitions the artistic directors were pushing the majority of us flocked to cover it. But when we come back, not because it was so earth shattering but because of the simple text not making sense. If we, highly educated individuals who write about architecture didn’t get it the first time. How might the average joe feel? Accessibility has to be as seamless as breathing in situations like this. And when it’s not, it just adds fuel to the fire when you wonder why engagement drops in culture settings.

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