Along with the projects mentioned above, an addition to a permaculture garden, a new bike repair shop, and a number of large-scale painted pieces could be found throughout the city, to name a few. With each of these projects—matched with in-person and remote public presentations or educational events—the tone of the entire Biennial was contrary to nearly any other architecture exhibition, even those with social issues at the core of their theme. Gone were the roundtable debates filled with architects and curators, replaced by the voices of social scholars, community activists, historians, and maybe an architect. This promoted conversations that are not new but are definitely uncommon in the larger architectural discourse.
Before turning our thoughts to the next CAB edition, which always seems to come so quickly, we have a brief moment to reflect. Even with an understanding of the 2021 edition’s mission and accomplishments, it is challenging to assess whether it was a success. Somehow it seems that that success (or failure) is at once very personal, specific to the people who engaged with the show, and very broad, encapsulating the many communities and organizations (mostly outside of architecture) that were affected. At the least, this show asks us to look more deeply and with more patience at the effects of architecture on the places we build. The Available City asks us to rethink everything from how we practice to how we engage with the greater public. And we are long overdue for that reflection.
Matthew Messner is a designer and critic. Currently, he is an adjunct professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology and the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Professionally, he is a designer at the Chicago-based Brininstool+Lynch. He is the former Midwest editor of The Architect’s Newspaper, and former project coordinator for the 2015 Chicago Architecture Biennial.
How to Cite This: Messner, Matthew. Review of The Available City: 2021 Edition of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, Chicago, IL, September 17 – December 18, 2021, JAE Online, July 1, 2022.