After having been founded in 1885 as an architectural sketch club, the Chicago Architectural Club was reconstituted in 1979 and, with it came the legendary debates spearheaded by the then-president Stanley Tigerman. During the monthly meetings, two members would present and debate their work, with the audience casting their votes and deciding on the winner. Debates were fierce and personal, and both the winner and the loser received a diploma, which we assume the earlier displayed more proudly than the later.
The Chicago Architectural Club was composed of a limited number of members who paid high dues, bringing together (and reinforcing) the elite group of architects already practicing in the city. After Tigerman left, those debates started to disappear. Over three decades later, neither the architecture nor the city itself remains the same. The format of the debate is still relevant, but we wonder if we can expand these debates (in size and/or number) to be more inclusive in terms of participants, audience, and topics.
Chicago has missed (i.e. intentionally avoided) several opportunities to debate the fate of existing and proposed buildings, but the first Chicago Architecture Biennial is a step in the right direction. The public setting, the diversity of points of view and mediums of the projects exhibited, and the number and range of free public events offered express an interest in engaging in this city-wide conversation about the role of architecture in our cities.
We hope that initiatives like the Chicago Architecture Biennial, as well as many others that do not receive the same resources and media attention but are equally important in shaping a constructive conversation, can help to convince citizens, public officials, and private interests that having these debates can only produce better work and, in turn, generate a better city.
With this issue, we hope to include all of you in this conversation, bringing the attention to ongoing debates and creating new (sometimes fictitious) ones. We also want to learn from those who have led them in the past, and to provide a platform for those willing to take their role in the future. You will not agree with all of the positions presented, but we hope you continue to add your voice and be part of the debates.
Debate has had invaluable help from Paola Antonelli, Jessica Barrett Sattell, Michelle Benoit, Christen Carter, Joel Carter, Andrew Clark, Justine Clark, André Corrêa, Peggy Deamer, Neil Donnelly, Michelle Millar Fisher, Nathan Friedman, Fabrizio Gallanti, Temple Grandin, Chris Grimley, Alexander Hayashi, Jessica Helfand, Katherine Herzog, Hannah Kim, Benjamin Koditschek, Michael Kubo, Max Kuo, Jessie LaFree, Ann Lui, Dennis Maher, Julie Michiels, Marina Otero Verzier, Mark Pasnik, Jason Pickleman, Quilian Riano, Zoë Ryan, Denise Scott Brown, Javairia Shahid, Adrian Shaughnessy, Christina Shivers, Craig Shparago, Manuel Shvartzberg, Stanley Tigerman, Sam Vinz, Thomas Weaver, and Mimi Zeiger.
Special thanks to Alisa Wolfson, Peter Ty, and Eavan Wallner from the Leo Burnett Chicago’s Department of Design for their patience and excellent work designing this issue.