Chicago Architecture Biennial

Passage

John Hill
7. October 2015
SO-IL, "Passage" (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)

New York's SO-IL – the duo of Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu – has inserted a series of portals made from steel studs over the ramps in the Chicago Cultural Center as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial.

The "People's Palace," as the Cultural Center is known, is blessed with grand staircases on its north and south ends, but to link these two sides of the building a ramp was inserted along the west side of the building in the 1970s. Therefore this setting for SO-IL's Passage is simple rather than ornate as in much of the rest of the building where the Chicago Architecture Biennial exhibition is on display (see, for example, the rooms where four full-scale dwellings are located).

A large curtain facing the street is adorned with an aerial photo (Iwan Baan's we presume), but otherwise the space is simply white surfaces and dated spaceframes holding up the curtain walls on both sides. The steel studs seem to have a dialogue with the latter, whose structure is regular while the studs are warped, turning 90 degrees from base to top.

Passage is one of the few truly spatial contributions of the Biennial, and it's one that elevates the sensation of moving across the building, particularly toward the 3rd floor hall with its glass Tiffany dome. The installation also takes something ubiquitous – the steel studs that frame the walls of most modern buildings – and inverts our expecations about it. For these reasons, Passage should become a longterm resident of the Cultural Center, not just a three-month piece to be experienced only in photos after 3 January 2016.

SO-IL, "Passage" – looking down the ramp from the 3rd floor (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)
SO-IL, "Passage" – looking up the ramp from the 2nd floor (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)
SO-IL, "Passage" – looking across the ramp on the 2nd floor (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)

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