The 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial’s titular imperative, “Make New History,” posits history as a kind of design project: The exhibition’s more than 140 participants are implored to refashion the architectural past by borrowing liberally from it in the present. Los Angeles architects Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee, co-artistic directors for the biennial’s second edition, frame the discipline’s past as raw material for current architects to mine and reconfigure into a distinctly contemporary project—not, as it were, an authoritative or untouchable canon. Sprawling across four floors of the Chicago Cultural Center through January 7, 2018, the biennial includes four themed sections—Building Histories, Civic Histories, Vertical City, and Horizontal City—as well as an architectural photography display of brand-new commissions, and a slew of off-site collateral exhibitions.
Vehemently derided by modernists and revered in turn by postmodernists during the last century, history no longer evokes any totalizing value judgment in the architectural milieu. Instead, the most compelling practices at this year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial digest history with highly varied, diverse creative mechanisms—they share, however, an abiding belief that architectural history is as ripe for a redesign as the built environment.