BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago

March 7, 2016

Exhibition statement by Iker Gil, curator of BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago.


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BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago. © Tom Harris Photography.

Chicago is a fascinating city, a reference for many around the world. There are multiple reasons but one undoubtedly is its impressive architectural legacy. It is also a complex city, one facing social and economic challenges that manifest themselves in very tangible ways. As the city looks forward and works on addressing them, we question if there are alternative ways to think about its future and we wonder what architects can bring to the table.

The eighteen projects included in this exhibition explore new possibilities for the city of Chicago. Generated by both emerging and established Chicago-based architects and designers, these projects rethink the future of the city without the need to respond to a brief by a client. At the same time, it explores the agency of the architect in shaping these scenarios. While they are generated without a client, these projects operate fully aware of the constraints and realities of Chicago with the intention to engage in fruitful conversations with public and private agencies to shape its future.

The selection of projects offer alternative strategies to key issues present at multiple scales: regional studies exploring interconnected layers such as biodiversity dynamics, agricultural production, and hydrology; urban strategies addressing ecological and infrastructural challenges while providing a sustainable revenue stream and conceptualizing new civic possibilities; speculative proposals exploring the urban design potential of Chicago’s vacant lots; innovative high-rise typologies marrying the latest technology, economic motivations, and idealized urban domestic life; new forms of architecture (aesthetic, spatial, and social) embracing technology’s influence on human sensory perception and environmental control; and a reexamination of issues, such as the use of history in the design of architecture and contemporary ideas surrounding libraries and the city, sparked by a late entry to the 1987 Harold Washington Library Center competition. These projects present the issues at stake in Chicago and the architectural scenarios to address them.

But architects are not the only ones looking at the city. Other disciplines are exploring the same issues that architects are interested in but through different lenses—complementing, expanding, and even questioning our understanding of the city. To generate that exchange, two projects that chose photography and map-making as their medium are incorporated into the exhibition to provide a look at the current state of the city. These projects document our relationship with vacancy, questioning how we might bridge disparate experiences of vacancy and what the relationship between planning and informality is, as well as uncover the stories hidden in the city through the abstraction and isolation of big data.

The eighteen projects that are part of this exhibition, along with a series of related events, present an excellent opportunity to engage in public debates about the issues we face, the possibilities they present, and the challenges we need to overcome to make them happen. Eighteen ideas that have the potential to foster complex and fascinating conversations that carry on past the duration of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. Eighteen scenarios that envision possible futures for Chicago.

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BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago. © Iker Gil.

The explorations here posit a palpable group of ideas about how to design cities, with the focus on Chicago. What can investigations in a lively urban place like Chicago teach the rest of the world? BOLD embodies much of the Chicago-specific things about the Biennial, with a strong sense of place and a clear mission that translates globally.
– Matt Shaw, Senior Editor of Architect’s Newspaper1

One of the most successful aspects of the BOLD exhibition is that it started new conversations between both new generations of Chicago city officials and Chicago designers, both interested in challenging Chicago’s 21st century status quo.
– Andrew Moddrell, Partner and Director of PORT Urbanism

Chicago has deep, serious social and environmental issues that are intertwined with the current physical form of our city. BOLD gave voice to many of us who believe we can change the present trajectory of inequity in the quality of life for Chicagoans.
– Brian Lee, Design Partner of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)

1 Matt Shaw, “Bold new visions for the future city take shape at the Chicago Architecture Biennial,” The Architect’s Newspaper, October 1, 2015.