The 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial showcased the work of over 140 participants, gathered together around the invitation to ‘Make New History’. The Biennial united a main exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center with a selection of off-site projects, a broad range of aligned exhibitions, and an extensive series of programming for the public that will serve Chicagoans and visitors alike.

The Artistic Directors developed a series of topics that structure the shared interests and practices between the architects and artists on show at the Chicago Cultural Center. These topics were Image, Material, Building, and Civic Histories highlighting different modes of architectural production; from the book to the city. Whether taking the form of drawings, installations, environments, or performances, biennial projects reflected the ongoing significance of the past, and the myriad ways that history is invoked in the production of new forms of architectural thought.

“Given the generational disposition of this Biennial, buildings are not always the end result,” says Mark Lee. “We think that producing ideas through different mediums—perhaps before one achieves the chance to build buildings, or maybe in lieu of that work—is relevant to the changing state of the discipline today.”

Exhibition Design

Artistic Directors Johnston Marklee transformed the Chicago Cultural Center by introducing a series of unique viewing experiences; from arcades and salons to labyrinthine galleries and lounges.

For four months, the rooms, galleries, and even hallways of the Cultural center were transformed into spaces where visitors experienced both the Biennial and the historic building in new ways. The public lounges throughout the building took inspiration from the Cultural Center’s long-standing role as an open gathering space in the heart of the city.

“The Cultural Center is a building that has been adapted from one use to another, so there are idiosyncrasies to all the rooms,” says Sharon Johnston. “Part of our thinking as architects was to try to think about it less as simply the flow of movement through the building, and more as taxonomizing and creating a collection of rooms that brought coherence to our exhibition design concepts.”


One major feature of Make New History was a contemporary exploration of the 1922 Chicago Tribune Tower competition at a monumental scale in the Cultural Center’s Yates Hall. Select participants were invited to reimagine the landmark structure, which was famously revisited in a group exhibition organized by Stanley Tigerman in 1980, and produced new vertical visions that address the pressing issues of the twenty-first century.

Another primary element of the show was a collection of scale model dioramas which reconsidered the interiors of some of architecture history’s most iconic buildings. The Cultural Center’s GAR Hall was filled with an array of displays where visitors were able to explore these new designs up close.

Make New History also included an exhibition of ongoing experiments in contemporary architectural photography curated by Jesús Vasallo at the invitation of Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee, entitled A Love of the World. The exhibition represented a selection of works by some of the most innovative photographers in the field today.

Community Anchor Sites

The Community Anchor sites were six museums and institutions which expanded the presence of the Biennial beyond the Loop and into neighborhoods across Chicago. These sites hosted affiliated exhibitions exploring architecture from a range of perspectives. Themes included international postcolonial experiences, the legacies of Chicago’s historical landscapes, and the long-standing creative traditions of communities of color. These exhibitions were supported by a generous grant from the Chicago Community Trust.

Special Projects

The Chicago Architecture Biennial also initiated a group of special projects by designers, artists, and performers presented in partnership with extraordinary venues in and around Chicago. This city-wide series of events and installations invited innovative practitioners to reinterpret a series of historic spaces from contemporary perspectives.

Learn more about the Special Projects

Program Partners

The Chicago Architecture Biennial joined with over 100 partner organizations to present a series of events and exhibitions throughout the duration of the Biennial. The Biennial and its partners explored Chicago’s rich historic legacy as an incubator of architectural ideas and showcased diverse cultural sites across the city and region through a range of programs that were available to the public.

See the full list of 2017 Program Partners