Tadao Ando-designed Wrightwood 659 exhibition space opens in Chicago

Tadao Ando-designed Wrightwood 659 exhibition space opens in Chicago

Chicago’s architectural legacy has always been an integral facet of the city’s culture – one that has experienced fresh interest with the occurrence of the Chicago Architecture Bienniale since 2015. The opening of Wrightwood 659 this week, a private institution dedicated to architecture and socially engaged art, builds upon things even further with its newly renovated structure, designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando.

Located in the city’s Lincoln Park neighbourhood, the new art space occupies a 1920s apartment building that has been dramatically transformed by Ando into an elegant hybrid of past and present. Although the classical red brick facade and its original adornments have been preserved, inside the building, bold volumes of concrete, thin glass banisters and large industrial windows are juxtaposed with exposed brick walls that boast gestural cut-outs to let natural light in. A long glass corridor on the top floor provides views of the city skyline, while a new rooftop structure rising above the original building at a tilt allows for a new terrace and additional gallery space to be installed. 

Fred Eychaner, president of the Alphawood Foundation Chicago, and architectural historian Dan Whittaker are the founders of the non-commercial gallery space. The formation of Wrightwood 659, in fact, evolved very much out of Alphawood’s exhibition programming – shows will oscillate between socially geared art and deeper explorations in architecture and design. 

Ando transformed an existing structure into an elegant hybrid of past and present. Photography: Jeff Goldberg/Esto

‘We are delighted to be opening a new space for art in Chicago, one conducive to quiet reflection and thoughtful engagement, while also provoking activism on behalf of a more just society’, says Lisa Cavanaugh, Wrightwood 659’s director.

Although it is a non-collecting entity and will not have its own holdings, Wrightwood 659 will present two exhibitions each year, kicking off with ‘Ando and Le Corbusier: Masters of Architecture’ for its inauguration. The show includes over 100 drawings, models and photographs of Le Corbusier, on loan from the Fondation Le Corbusier in Paris and the Art Institute of Chicago, alongside 160 small models of the icon’s architecture works made by students of Ando. 

Curated by Whittaker and Eric Mumford, professor of architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, it explores the influence of Le Corbusier on Ando. The gallery’s second floor has been filled with works ranging from his Purist period in the 1920s to lithographs, paintings, archival photographs and models of key works, like the Villa Savoye in Paris and the Assembly in Chandigarh, India.

Its third and fourth floors showcase Ando’s creations and includes focuses on the island of Naoshima, several museum projects and hotel structures. A large concrete scale-model of Ando’s Church of the Light in Ibaraki, Japan sits on the mezzanine level, beneath the building’s skylights.

It is worth noting that walk-in visits to the space will not be entertained, in a bid to preserve the sanctity of the gallery. Admission is strictly by online reservation only. §

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