Chicago Architecture Biennial 2021: the must-sees


What to see at the Chicago Architecture Biennial 2021

Wondering what to see at the Chicago Architecture Biennial 2021? We met up with artistic director David Brown ahead of the opening later this month, and got a sneak peek of what’s going to be on show

As in-person events in some parts of the world slowly start returning (with Milan Design Week and Open House London already making a splash), the Chicago architecture scene has been preparing for a celebration of its own. For the Chicago Architecture Biennial 2021, the festival’s fourth edition, artistic director David Brown digs deep into a rich pool of contributors and topics, creating a layered, varied and exciting city-wide show, tapping into critical ideas, such as urban and social sustainability, vacant spaces, diversity and community. First-hand installation experience and meaningful discourse are central to this biennial’s iteration. 

With his programme, Brown expands on the theme The Available City, his entry for the inaugural 2015 Biennial, where vacant lots served as his muse for developing ‘an experiment in new possibilities of how to explore and activate space’. In keeping with this subject (and to accommodate the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic) the biennial has migrated outside the traditional headquarters of the Cultural Center in the Loop, placing the vast majority of entries in the city’s neighborhoods, especially on the South and West sides, with their wealth of vacant lots.

Installation by Soil Lab. Image: Eibhlín Ní Chathasaigh, James Albert Martin, Maria Bruun and Anne Dorthe Vester

We met up to find out more about this edition’s highlights, and while stressing that the biennial is a dynamic work in progress, Brown names Living Room and Under the Grid, pieces that tackle issues such as urban farming and neighbourhood gatherings, as some of his must-sees – while maintaing that of course visitors should try to visit all the sites, if possible. Looking through the festival’s advance information, RAISIN, Invest South/West and Epic Academy also feel like standout designs and concepts, talking about ideas of homeownership, performance and equity and the arts.

Here is our pick of some of the finest installations to visit during Chicago Architecture Biennial 2021. 

Living Room

This is a collaboration between Chicago architecture firm The Bittertang Farm and CCA Academy, a private, non-denominational high school in Chicago’s North Lawndale Community. Living Room invites engagement with urban agriculture and farming within the PermaPark Garden, with an emphasis on health and wellness.

Under the Grid

A 15-block stretch under the Pink Line ‘L’ train developed by Open Architecture Chicago and Freedom House, this project has two main elements: Block Party and Cover the Grid. The former is a collaboration between Miami-based Studio Barnes, Shawhin Roudbari…



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