Sep 17–Dec 18, 2021

Chicago Architecture Biennial 2021

The Available City
Address
78 E. Washington St. , Chicago IL 60602 Map

EXCERPT OF ESSAY BY DAVID BROWN

The 2021 Chicago Architectural Biennial titled The Available City presents the city as a site for a new urban design proposal and global dialogue. The Available City focuses on the potential for creating collective space in Chicago’s ten thousand-plus city-owned vacant lots, which are concentrated in eighteen underserved South and West neighborhoods that are home to primarily Black and Brown communities. The Available City's collaborative and improvisational approach to creating a new urban landscape is community first rather than system first, as it works from a small scale to a large scale and over time to provide diverse forms and activities to foster collective spaces that are transformative for the residents and communities of each neighborhood. It’s an urban design approach that is informed by Black culture, especially as it relates to improvisation.

The Available City poses four key provocations: Our Missions Are Urbanisms; Futures We Could Have Today; Something Patterned, Wild, and Free; and A Power That’s Stronger than Itself, which inform the Biennial gallery exhibitions and essays. The texts and works on exhibit reflect on critical issues and questions that are not exclusive to Chicago: Who participates in the design of the city? How can changed points of view and changed policies offer new possibilities? Who are the improvisational organizers of the city? How can small elements have an exponential impact in the aggregate? In addition to the essays and exhibitions, the Biennial manifests this urban design approach by creating collective spaces in neighborhoods that we can experience and respond to and by providing ways in which other ideas for collective spaces can be developed over time. By design, the development of ideas to make city-owned lots into collective spaces engages organizations and residents in those neighborhoods, in addition to architects and designers. The Available City foregrounds how under-resourced communities have ideas for their neighborhoods that can contribute to the larger character and design of the city.

As considered in The Available City, collective spaces are publicly accessible spaces that possess forms and activities varied enough to generate and accommodate a diversity of interests and needs in a neighborhood or community. Collective spaces implemented by community organizations can address art and culture, technology, transportation and infrastructure, education and youth development, health and wellness, green and open space, sports and recreation, workplace development, economic development, and capacity building. Additionally, public safety is addressed indirectly through the livability that collective spaces in a neighborhood can provide. The primary focus of the Biennial is on community-partner sites for collective spaces. Site-specific structures were developed through a collaborative design process between architects, artists, and community organizations to realize new possibilities today. Some of the projects are temporary, while others are permanent. Many of these projects will evolve through events hosted by the Biennial on highlight weekends and activities initiated by residents week by week.

The fact that this urban design proposal impacts multiple neighborhoods; engages a large number of residents, alongside a large number of designers, to think about collective spaces; and evinces how those spaces can amass into a larger landscape makes it an appropriate focus for the Biennial. In turn, the Biennial’s global platform enables the participation of designers from around the world and community-site partners in five neighborhoods (North Lawndale, Englewood, Woodlawn, Bronzeville, and Pilsen), where vacant lots are prevalent, along with a site in South Loop. This scale of engagement aligns with the urban design proposal’s scope. This edition of the Biennial highlights the value of architecture and the roles and impacts designers can have in working with neighborhoods and communities to introduce spaces that can be transformative—addressing interests, needs, and expectations in surprising ways. Through its unique connection to urban design, the Biennial thus becomes engaged in the making of the city—and is itself changed. In exploring The Available City, the 2021 Biennial opens up questions of what could and should be the relationship of biennials to urban design and the city.