Chicago Architecture Biennial reckons with displacement, privation and segregation

There are arguably few American cities that identify as closely with their architectural heritage as Chicago. Yet while participants in one of the citys popular architecture tours are usually informed that the citys name derives from the Miami-Illinois word shikaakwa, this is typically the last mention of the original inhabitants of what was once one of the most vital portage sites for Indigenous Peoples of the Great Lakes region.

With its title …and other such stories, the third Chicago Architecture Biennial signals its commitment to addressing the histories of displacement, privation and segregation that inform the citys urban design as surely as its most vaunted structures do. It joins a number of biennials reckoning with the colonialist dimensions of their host cities and their impact on contemporary urban realities.

Map of American Indian trails and villages of Chicago, Illinois, and of Cook, DuPage and Will Counties, Illinois, in 1804. Map by Albert F. Scharf, 1900-1901. Villages highlighted in green; principle trails in red; and waterways in blue Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum

For example, one programming initiative with the Settler City Colonial Project in collaboration with Chicagos American Indian Center reconciles Chicagos modernisation with the forcible removal and dispossession of Indigenous people that mainstream historical accounts erase. Euphemistically referred to as “the Peoples Palace,” the Biennials host building, the Chicago Cultural Center, might easily dazzle viewers with its glittering Neoclassic marble and mosaic interiors. Yet the site-wide installation, led by architectural historians Andrew Herscher and Ana María León, both of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, “annotates” the material and spatial histories that constitute this luxurious spectacle through a series of didactics strategically placed throughout the building, as well as a corresponding publication.

"We're not simply telling a different story about the Chicago Cultural Center,” León says. “We're allowing the building to tell its own stories, in particular its stories around colonialism, both nationally and globally."

Drawing inspiration from traditions of Indigenous knowledge manifested in human beings, places, and the natural world, Herscher and León amplify the voices of individual elements within the structure. The building's stately mahogany doors, for example, are the products of colonialist outposts in East India during the 19th century, while the Tiffany Dome that crowns the third floor is a monument to the success that Tiffany & Co. enjoyed by celebrating westward expansion, the closing of the frontier, and the displacement of Native Americans during the Golden Age.

Princess O-Me-Me, a Chippewa, Sun Road, a Pueblo, and Chief Whirling Thunder, a Winnebago, look over Chicago's skyline from the roof of the Hotel Sherman, 3 October 1929 Photo: Underwood & Underwood/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Notably the Cultural Center also sits on an indigenous territory that remains officially unacknowledged in the heart of downtown Chicago, and it is one of many such sites in the city, which also include some of its most iconic causeways famously designed in 1909 by Daniel H. Burnham and Edward H. Bennett. Ultimately, León says the project frames how the colonial processes of extraction, erasure, dispossession and violence yielded the now architecturally pedigreed city.

The biennials curatorial team, comprised of curator Sepake Angiama and architect Paulo Tavares, as well as its artistic director Yesomi Umolu, further establish historical erasure as part of a continuum that includes more contemporary effacements forced by gentrification. Noting the particular “sort of attrition” that marks waves of urban displacement over the citys history, Umolu says: “Gentrification has shaped Chicagos neighbourhoods differently than it has those of other North American cities, due, ironically, to the prevailing ethos of segregation.”

Gentrification is often understood as shifting the racial/ethnic and economic composition of low-income neighborhoods through an influx of middle-class wealth. But in certain parts of the Chicago, “the demographic specificity of neighborhoods combined with entrenched attitudes towards race have made it more difficult for gentrification to take its expected form of shifting racial compositions”, Umolu says.

This is a process that the Chicago artist and urban planner Theaster Gates aims to disrupt in his ongoing engagement with the South Side. In 2009, Gates initiated Dorchester Projects, a facet of his nonprofit organization, the Rebuild Foundation. Under its umbrella, the artist has acquired a number of South Side properties and renovated them into the troves of black American culture that are Archive House, Listening House and the Stony Island Arts Bank.

The Stony Island Arts Bank, an abandoned bank building Theaster Gates bought from the city and renovated as an arts centre Tom Harris © Hedrich Blessing, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation

Gates primary medium is real estate; his aim for the biennial is to make the inscrutable mechanisms of land acquisition that he had to master comprehensible to the publics that have been disfranchised by these processes. While the documents that chart Gates acquisitions in plain text and images may initially appear dryly ascetic, as conceptual art often does, the material effects of this gesture are “very real for Chicago residents who have over the decades lost billions of dollars through practices of contract buying and redlining that have withheld the equity that home ownership was long supposed to guarantee”, Umolu says.

In an iteration of their ongoing Justice Hotel project that will coincide with the Biennial, 6018North Director Tricia Van Eck and artist Amanda Williams grapple with the concept of value, an abstraction that is nonetheless weaponised in the politics of urban space in America. In their 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, the Supreme Court affirmed the right of private entities to seize anothers private property for redevelopment if the owners use of their property was determined to be “undeveloped,” and therefore worthless. Eminent domain is the process by which many of the properties on the South Side have come to be abandoned, seized by private companies that force the evacuation of their residents.

Williams executed her acclaimed Color(ed) Theory>Read More – Source