Chicago Architecture Biennial

3 Places for Sitting (and 1 for Leaning)

John Hill
5. October 2015
RAAAF's "The End of Sitting - Cut Out" (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)

Walking through the main doors to the Cultural Center from Randolph Street on the north, visitors to the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial first encounter Place for Gathering, designed by Burkina Faso architect Francis Kéré. He stacked logs of locally sourced wood, sanding them at the top to create benches and a surface like a communal table or desk. More than a place to sit before heading into the free exhibition, the installation is an olfactory delight, the wood a strong counterpoint to the city's smells outside.

Kéré Architecture's "Place for Gathering" (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)

A left turn from the Place for Gathering brings visitors to the Biennial's bookstore, which is outfitted with books by participating architects, Biennial merchandise and other gear. Along the windows sits and installation by RAAAF (Rietveld Architecture-Art-Affordances) appropriately called The End of Sitting - Cut Out. Denying the chair and desk as the default in work environments, the installation offers "affordances," or "possibilities of action," so visitors can try standing, leaning or even laying down while reading a book or magazine from the store.

RAAAF's "The End of Sitting - Cut Out" (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)

Further still into the Cultural Center, into the space often referred to as "the living room of the city," Mexico City's Pedro&Juana populated the opulent space with high tables, mesh-walled chairs and sofas, coffee tables and spherical lights suspended from ropes that can be raised and lowered by pulling at the counterweights. Further yet, as part of their Randolph installation, they covered the marble walls with patterns mean to reconnect with the old ceiling and remind visitors about the library that occupied the building before its current incarnation.

Pedro&Juana's "Randolph" (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)

Back outside, but along Washington Street on the building's sunny south side, is an installation by local architect John Ronan, titled Leaf Lounge: Between Building and City. Built from gabions filled with branches and leaves, and fitted with tree trunks for seats, the installation creates two spaces sequestered from the street but open to the steps leading to the Cultural Center. It's an inviting space if not for the fact the Biennial takes place in the three months when Chicago's weather gets progressively colder – at least the gabion walls offer a respite from the wind.

John Ronan Architects' "Leaf Lounge: Between Building and City" (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)

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