Skip to content



Robert Somol

Chicago, United States


Robert Somol is a design critic and theorist. He was director of the School of Architecture from 2007 to 2022. He is the editor of Autonomy and Ideology (Monacelli Press, 1997) and has served on the editorial boards of Any and Log. His writings have appeared in publications ranging from Assemblage to Wired and will appear in a forthcoming collection of essays, Nothing to Declare. Somol is the co-designer of off-use, an award-winning studio and residence in Los Angeles that extends his interest in combining the speculative discipline of modernism with the material excesses of mass culture. In the 2015-16 academic year, Somol was a fellow at UIC’s Institute for the Humanities, where he worked on a book, This Will Cover ThatWriting and Building from the Death of Corbusier to the End of Architecture; he also served as Baumer Distinguished Visiting Co-Professor (along with Neil Denari) at the Ohio State University.

CAB 2 Contribution

Project Overview

Graphic Equalizer

As an initial stage of the Biennial, artistic directors Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee requested that each participant submit three reference images that informed their work, and invited Robert Somol to help organize this collective archive. In part, the collection represents a snapshot of the unconscious imaginary among a group of architects practicing today. While difficult to generalize, the preoccupations tend to cluster along certain image “frequencies.” Arranged in four gradient bands, these frequencies have been categorized as:

Manner: From repetition to visitation, the logic of the project, whether bottom-up or top-down. Does the project attempt to deviate the given or naturalize the alien?

Matter: From geologic to infologic, the substance of the project as made of stones or signs. Is the project materialized through the phenomenal/perceptual or the virtual/conceptual?

Mode: From abstraction to convention, the expression of the project, conveyed through geometric wholes or figural parts. Does the project attend to overall form or articulated element?

Mood: From melancholic to manic, the affect of the project as directed through its mise-en-scene of relative anxiety or ecstasy. How does the project conspire to reduce or magnify a style of life, for the one or the many?

What results is a graphic equalizer or mixing console, and where offices set the slider among the four sets of issues largely determines the genre of their resulting work. Mixtures among or within the four gradients can establish the terms of evaluation and significance for a project. Thus, the graphic equalizer not only helps account for work in this exhibition, but makes possible other combinations for future work.

The City is the Site