Perma-pavilions: Chicago Architecture Biennial to transform waterfront kiosks

Perma-pavilions: Chicago Architecture Biennial to transform waterfront kiosks

One of the challenges of architecture exhibitions is the fact that most work gets razed once the show is over. For a profession that aspires to permanence, this flash-in-the-pan cycle can be oppressive. With the Chicago Architecture Biennial, which opens on 3 October, co-artistic directors Sarah Herda and Joseph Grima wanted to make a more lasting impression on the city’s landscape. So, in partnership with the Chicago Park District and the City of Chicago, the biennial will produce four kiosks to be exhibited in Chicago’s Millennium Park throughout the event, but which will be permanently installed along the city’s Lake Michigan waterfront when it closes.

One of these pavilions, Chicago Horizon, was selected for the biennial in an open, international competition. Designed by the US architecture firm Ultramoderne in collaboration with structural engineer Brett Schneider, it riffs on the flat-roofed pavilions of early modernism; but unlike its glass-and-steel forebears, the structure experiments with cross-laminated timber. As Ultramoderne principal Aaron Forrest puts it, ’It became this quest to design the biggest roof we possibly could using this material.’

During the biennial, which will run until 3 January 2016, Chicago Horizon will serve as an architectural library. Platform seating will allow visitors to gather, and, once it’s installed along the waterfront, to take advantage of the lakeside views. 

For the other three pavilions, biennial organisers directly commissioned design teams by pairing local schools with international architecture firms: Illinois Institute of Technology with the Chilean firm Pezo von Ellrichshausen; the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with NLÉ, a practice with offices in Amsterdam and Lagos, Nigeria; and the University of Illinois at Chicago with Indie Architecture and Paul Preissner Architects.

’This is one of the most amazing public spaces in the country,’ says Herda, referring to the lakefront. ’Yet, there are these 40 little off-the-shelf stands that dot the shoreline.’ Beginning next year, some those little stands are poised to become  significant architectural landmarks.


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