Chicago Tribune — “Chicago Architects Take the Lead for U.S. Pavilion at Prestigious Venice Architecture Biennale”

March 12, 2018

“Chicagoans are designing two of the pavilion’s seven installations, including one by the firm of architect Jeanne Gang that will transport hundreds of cobblestones from a Memphis riverfront to Venice. ...

The biennale’s publicity material defines [the overall theme of the biennale, ‘Freespace’] this way: ‘a generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity at the core of architecture’s agenda.’ Bringing that noble, yet lofty, theme down to earth, the U.S. pavilion will explore the fraught topic of how the built environment defines, and is defined by, disparate notions of what it means to be a citizen.

‘We think citizenship is an urgent question,’ Ann Lui, assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute, said in an interview last week. ‘It’s about the ways we come together, by law and by choice.’ ...

The U.S. pavilion, a 1930 exercise in neo-classicism, has been described as a mini-Monticello, complete with a rotunda and a column-fronted brick facade that wraps around an outdoor courtyard. It suggests an old-fashioned, civics textbook understanding of citizenship: earnest, hand-over-your-heart, Pledge of Allegiance kind of stuff.

The exhibits commissioned by the Chicago curators are likely to exist in tension with this decorous container.

Inspired by the 1977 Charles and Ray Eames short film, ‘Powers of 10,’ which begins with a picnic on the Chicago lakefront and gradually zooms out to outer space, the exhibits will explore the interplay between design and citizenship at scales ranging from the human body to the cosmos. With its array of cobblestones shipped in from Memphis, Gang’s exhibit promises to be a stirring example.

The stones ... will come from Memphis’ Cobblestone Landing, a historic site along the Mississippi River. ...

To make the landing more welcoming and inclusive, Gang and a principal at her firm, Gia Biagi, suggested that trees be planted amid the stones to provide a shade canopy and that people throughout the city plant a ‘twin’ version of the new trees in their neighborhood. Their plan, which has yet to be constructed, took on added resonance in December when Memphis tore down two Confederate statues in advance of April 4, which will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the city.

‘In the context of a time when these monuments are being taken down, it brings up the idea: What is a marker? What is a memorial? What could it be in the future?’ Gang said. ‘Could this be more of a horizontal marker that is a kind of inclusive civic marker ... ?’”

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Read the official US Pavilion press release