Inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial kicks off this weekend | WBEZ
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Chicago begins inaugural celebration of built environments this weekend

If Chicago’s buildings could talk, they’d probably speak in a variety of languages.  

The city is well-known for its diverse architecture, making it an ideal spot for North America’s largest architecture exhibition. Hundreds of architects, urban planners and designers are flocking to Chicago to share their work at the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial.

The three-month long exhibition is designed as a forum for creative-types to share new design ideas for cities through conversations, exhibits and tours around the city.

Joseph Grima is the event’s co-artistic director.

“It’s really the opportunity to affect the lives of individuals, groups, but also of entire communities,” Grima said. “That’s one of the things that exhibition explores, is the impact of good architecture on communities both in Chicago and other cities.”

The Chicago Cultural Center is currently home to many of the exhibits, which includes full-scale houses from designers from places like Mexico and Vietnam.

Tatiana Bilbao is a participating architect from Mexico City. The house she designed is built from simple materials -- like wood and industrial pallets. Bilbao prioritized affordability so that the poorest families in Mexico aren’t confined to one-room dwellings.

“I think it’s very important that people have a very comfortable place to live, and normally these people don’t have the chance,” Bilbao said. “If you have a (better) place to live, you can be a better citizen.”

Many of the participating architects are working on Chicago-based projects too.

Thomas Jacobs, an architect from the firm Krueck + Sexton. His designs are meant to address the empty lots seen all over the city. One of his projects included a design that would alter the way buildings are oriented on a city block. The design allows more daylight to enter the home, while avoiding windows that look directly onto a next door neighbor.

Jacobs said architects are well-equipped to address the sometimes simple problems that arise in communities.

“I think a lot of the work that you see at the biennial, deal with some of these fundamental questions,” Jacobs said.  “How could you improve neighborhoods and communities? And some of the things are very simple. It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of money or technology. It’s just orienting the building in a smarter way could do a lot to create space that is more usable and better for people.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other private sponsors were on hand Thursday to preview the exhibits. Emanuel said “the study and discussion of architecture is engrained in the civic fabric of Chicago.”

He also pointed to a favorite project of his, the Chicago Riverwalk, as an example of how changing a space can improve the mood of an environment.

“As cities have a renaissance, how we think of sustainability, how we think or urban planning and creating a space of commonality, can make a difference in the livelihood of a city,” Emanuel said.

The Chicago Architecture Biennial is free and open to the public. Designs are on display at the Chicago Cultural Center. There are a number of projects scattered around the city and along the lakefront. The exhibition opens Sunday and also includes free architecture tours.

Meredith Francis is a WBEZ news intern. Follow her @MMLFrancis.

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