The Chicago Architecture Biennial fills the Thompson Center with installations
A wooden pavilion formed by drought and signage made from found urban objects is on display at Chicago’s James R. Thompson Center for the Chicago Architecture Biennial.
The Floating Museum, an art collective and curator of the 5th Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB 5), has collaborated with stakeholders of the iconic structure designed by Helmut Jahn to arrange a series of works in the space.
Large and small-scale installations have been placed inside the building, in its massive circular atrium, as well as outside, to connect the streetscape to the building, which was recently purchased by the technology company Google.
Dialogue about public space
“We were interested in this atrium as a changing space, from public to private — but it would still be a public space,” said Jeremiah Holsebus-Spufford, co-founder of the floating museum.
With its train connections and history of amenities, the building’s lobby will remain open to the public as it transitions from government to corporate ownership.
“There is interest in starting a forum, discussion and dialogue around this space and what it means to the public,” Holsebos-Spofford added.
Outside the building, Boston studio Stoss Landscape Urbanism arranged a series of carved tree trunks and burlap sacks filled with plants in the seating areas.
This artwork called Tree Cycles is designed to highlight “natural urban processes” through the decomposition and decomposition of natural materials.
It was a contrast to the glass-encased Thompson Centre, a contrast that continued with the first installation inside the building, a wooden architectural pavilion from the ITECH master’s program at the University of Stuttgart.
The Hygroshell Research Pavilion is a “self-build timber building system”. Its curved shape is achieved through mathematical operations that calculate the way the packaged wooden elements bend after being exposed to the environment.
Elsewhere in the lobby, curators placed large, banner-like textile pieces by Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama. Using reclaimed materials, the artist sewed huge tapestries that were then draped from the sides of the lobby.
The furnishings rely heavily on the burlap sack, a staple material in global freight transportation that nods to Ghana’s “history of resource extraction,” according to Holsbos-Spufford.
Chicago-based Studio Inference placed a metal shell inside the lobby, which will serve as a venue for talks and lectures.
Two out-of-town creative organizations contributed to the exhibition. NPR Music has recreated the famous Tiny Desk Concert set — a desk surrounded by a bookshelf covered in books and other paraphernalia from the music industry.
This is the first time the Foundation has allowed its signature office to be recreated outside its studios in Washington, D.C., which is in keeping with the biennale’s overarching theme, “This is a Rehearsal.”
There was also a pop-up exhibition by New York-based art and architecture organization Storefront. The group took over a store that was operated by cell phone provider Sprint.
The Thompson Center was purchased from the government by Google in 2022. Located in the heart of downtown Chicago, the building opened in 1985 and for years provided office space for government institutions, as well as a food court and train connection to the public.
According to Capri Investment Group, the developer renovating the structure, there are plans to return the building to its pre-remodeled shell for Google’s use.
CAB 5 takes place while the building still retains much of the original cladding and masonry.
“It seemed like a no-brainer to take advantage of this moment in time to do something at the Thompson Center to make it happen, something amazing, but it wasn’t just about putting in some pieces, we want to really activate the space,” Capri said. Investment Group Chief Design Officer Joel Putnam.
“So we are focusing on trying to hold ongoing events, discussions and lectures.”
Exhibitions at the Thompson Center are just one aspect of the biennial’s programs, which take place at institutions throughout the city.
Photography by Corey Dewald.
The Chicago Architecture Biennial runs from September 21, 2021 to February 11, 2024. For more events, exhibitions and talks in architecture and design around the world, visit Dezeen’s events guide.