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NESS Picks from the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial

NESS Picks from the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial

Lounge room at the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial. Ph. Pablo Gerson

The current Chicago Architecture Biennial has certainly opened the floor to the ecstatic debate on how to curate architecture, how to construct narratives through architectural practice, and how to make that visible to the wider public. The question goes: is architecture a mere instrument of political dominance and therefore complicit or is it capable of embracing its potentialities and conceive a better future? Both, argue the curators Yesomi Umolu, Sepake Angiama, and Paulo Tavares in the biennial titled “…and such other stories.” Bringing together more than 80 contributors from 22 different countries, the exhibition addresses architecture as spatial practice concerning policymaking, colonialism, activism, and forms of collectivity. We have selected three projects—very different in their way of engaging with the public—to keep reflecting on how architecture constructs our built environment: the MSTC – Movimento Sem Teto do Centro by MSTC in collaboration with Escola da Cidade and O Grupo Inteiro; the Museum of Oil by Territorial Agency; and the Anarchitectural Library (against the neoliberal erasure of Chicago’s common spaces) by Adrian Blackwell and team. You can read below the curatorial texts on the three projects.

MSTC–Housing as Citizenship Practice
MSTC in collaboration with Escola da Cidade and O Grupo Inteiro   

Commissioned by the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial  
Mixed-media installation with videos

MSTC–Housing as Citizenship Practice. Ph. Pablo Gerson

Nearly seven million families in Brazil live without adequate, affordable housing. Yet it is estimated that Brazil has more than six million vacant properties in urban areas. Since the 1990s, various housing movements have occupied vacant properties in downtown São Paulo to pressure the city to implement social housing policies and projects; at the same time, their endeavors provide temporary housing to low-income communities so they can gain access to urban amenities and employment available only in the city center. MSTC is one of the most active organizations, currently managing more than a dozen occupations and raising awareness among low-income communities regarding their public rights. Developed through a research studio in collaboration with the architecture school Escola da Cidade and the art and curatorial collective O Grupo Inteiro, this installation presents the many strategies developed by MSTC. Ocupação 9 de Julho, one of their most successful projects, is home to more than three hundred people, including migrants and refugees from other regions of Brazil and other countries, who otherwise would live in unstable conditions or be homeless. It also offers educational and job training services and functions as a cultural hub.

Founded on the belief that workers must have access to housing, Movimento Sem Teto do Centro (MSTC) fights on behalf of families experiencing homelessness. Led by Carmen Silva—an activist, immigrant, and mother who has herself experienced homelessness—the organization promotes debate and activism around structural failures of urban planning and housing policies, helping citizens gain access to affordable homes. Through MSTC’s actions, over dozen previously abandoned or unoccupied buildings in São Paulo are now inhabited by people in need. MSTC partners with architects, artists, independent media groups, universities, and cultural and recreational institutions to integrate the population it serves into the cultural and civic fabric of São Paulo. Its partners include O Grupo Inteiro, an interdisciplinary collective that combines architecture, graphic design, and curating, and Associação Escola da Cidade, a teacher-run design school located in downtown São Paulo that offers undergraduate degrees in architecture and urbanism.

Museum of Oil
Territorial Agency 

Commissioned by the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial
Mixed-media installation

Museum of Oil. Ph. Pablo Gerson

Territorial Agency’s Museum of Oil makes a radical and urgent proposal in response to the current climate emergency: “We shall keep oil underground, put the oil industry in the museum, and make it a thing of the past.” Initially developed in collaboration with Greenpeace and produced in cooperation with ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, Museum of Oil registers how the oil industry has infiltrated and disrupted global finance, communities, and the natural environment. For this iteration, John Palmesino and Ann-Sofi Rönnskog developed new research focusing on the oil landscapes in North America, which will be added to the museum collection as the “American Rooms.” The installation integrates satellite and remote-sensing data analyzing cases such as shale fracking in Texas, conflict over the Dakota Access Pipeline, deep-water extraction in the Gulf of Mexico, and oil refining in Whiting, Indiana. Conceived as an open public institution, Museum of Oil is a space for thinking collectively about the structural changes that abandoning oil use would entail, from everyday individual habits to larger institutional, industrial, and urban systems, including the field of architecture. 

Territorial Agency was established by the architects and urbanists John Palmesino and Ann-Sofi Rönnskog; Territorial Agency combines architecture, analysis, advocacy, and action for integrated spatial transformations of contemporary territories. The organization works to strengthen the capacity of local and international communities for comprehensive spatial transformation in the Anthropocene, a geologic epoch shaped by human impacts. Its activities are grounded in extensive territorial analysis, with a focus on complex remote sensing representations that monitor the transformations of physical structures in inhabited territories. Territorial Agency’s work has appeared at HKW Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; ZKM Karlsruhe; BAK Utrecht; Tate Modern; Serpentine Galleries; the Venice Biennale; and the Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris. Palmesino and Rönnskog are unit masters at the Architectural Association, London. Palmesino is a founding member of multiplicity, an international research network based in Milan, and Rönnskog is a research fellow at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. They led the research of ETH Zurich / Studio Basel Contemporary City Institute.  

Anarchitectural Library (against the neoliberal erasure of Chicago’s common spaces)  
Project team: Adrian Blackwell, Daniel Abad, Christopher Mendoza, Open Books

Commissioned by the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial
Steel, glass, fabric, books, pamphlets, reports 

Anarchitectural Library. Ph. Pablo Gerson

Artist, theorist, and urban designer Adrian Blackwell responds to the political and economic forces exerted by physical spaces. Anarchitectural Library addresses the Chicago Cultural Center’s history as the city’s first public library, an institution conceived in part as a space to ‘civilize’ an unruly population of immigrants, workers, socialists, and anarchists. Whereas the original library responded to the specific struggles of the late nineteenth century by pacifying political demands, Anarchitectural Library gives voice to contemporary organizations fighting to keep alive spaces that produce and maintain urban life and collectivity. The library houses printed publications submitted by Chicago-based activists, organizers, and researchers whose work resists public housing destruction, school closures, loss of industry, environmental degradation, and mass incarceration. The public is invited to peruse and discuss its contents. 

Spanning photography, video, sculpture, urban theory, and design, Adrian Blackwell’s practice responds to the political and economic forces inscribed in physical spaces. His work often consists of interventions that directly address pressing urban issues, exposing the powers and interests that shape the city. His projects unfold in conjunction with research focused on the local and global effects of neoliberal urbanization, the disappearance of public and affordable housing in North America, and the inherent paradoxes of urban space. Blackwell’s work has been exhibited at artist-run centers and public institutions across Canada, at the 2005 Shenzhen Biennale, the 2011 Chengdu Biennale, and the Architectural Association, London. He will participate in the inaugural 2019 Toronto Biennial of Art. He has taught architecture and urbanism at Chongqing University (China), the University of Michigan, Harvard University, and the University of Toronto, and he is currently an assistant professor at the University of Waterloo (Canada).

The Biennial is free and open to the public until January 5, 2020. It will be on view in both its main venue, the historic Chicago Cultural Center, and in official off-site venues throughout the city.

Explore more Biennials as part of our editorial What’s Your Story?

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