Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Chicago Architecture Biennial Brings "Chicago Horizon" to Museum Campus

If you live in Chicago, it's pretty much a mandatory that you appreciate architecture.  If you don't admit it, by living here you pretty much have to default to that characteristic.  Anyway, with the city trying to find unique and iconic events to build up the city's profile, Chicago is in the midst of the first annual Chicago Architecture Biennial (click here for more info on the 3+ month events).

As part of this event, Chicago has created a contest challenging designers to create interesting lakefront kiosks.  The Chicago Tribune architecture critic, Blair Kamin, recently visited and weighed in:
So it goes with the four lakefront kiosks designed for the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the sprawling, captivating survey of contemporary design that is making its inaugural run here. Only two are completed; none has a vendor yet. Despite such problems, these little buildings, which the biennial erected in concert with the Chicago Park District, are cause for celebration, or at least guarded optimism. 
They serve up delicious eye candy, explore new uses of materials, create a showcase for up-and-coming architects and promise to create a family of architecturally significant structures that will replace the lakefront's modest food-and-drink shacks. They remind us of the value of architectural experimentation, a key biennial theme. And they raise fascinating issues about small park structures:

What exactly is their purpose? Are they meant to be iconic objects or form spaces that invite people to gather? How can they be artful contributions to the cityscape and stand up to vagaries of the weather and human behavior? Which should take precedence — their identity in the summer, when they're supposed to be used by vendors and visitors, or in the winter, when the vendors shut down?

Such questions have been popping up with increasing frequency on architectural radar screens since 2000. That's when London's Serpentine Galleries began sponsoring the construction of temporary summer pavilions by revered architects like Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry.
As you can see by the picture above, one of the Kiosks is in our hood by museum campus and called "Chicago Horizon":
Set at the base of a hill near the Shedd Aquarium and titled "Chicago Horizon," this small structure poses a big question: How to build a flat wood roof that can span great distances without sagging like a wet noodle? 
The answer, designed by Ultramoderne, a team of Rhode Island designers (Yasmin Vobis, Aaron Forrest and Brett Schneider), comes in an enticing package. A thin roof, 56 feet square, spreads far beyond 13 asymmetrically arranged interior columns. It shelters a large gathering area and small rectangular zones for a vendor as well as those trouble-inducing stairs and viewing platform. 
The kiosks' imagery and the views it frames are lovely. It's Ludwig Mies van der Rohe meets Ikea: handsomely proportioned, carefully detailed, a poetic essay in wood that vividly contrasts the natural with the man-made. I hope it stays in its lush Museum Campus setting rather than being moved, as originally planned, to the concrete desert of Queen's Landing, the lakefront promenade that sits to the east of Buckingham Fountain.
But the jury is still out on how this $75,000 pavilion, which was the winning entry in a global architecture competition that drew more than 400 entries, will work. 
Its abstract architectural language makes it inscrutable to some passers-by. But once touches for the vendor, like LED signs and menu displays, are in place, they should better signal that the kiosk is a spot for hanging out. 
"To solve the climbing problem, the architects are exploring options like a glass guardrail around the roof slot. Let's hope they get it right: This will be a lesser project if parkgoers can't ascend its stair to the viewing platform, stick their heads above the roof and look out over the namesake horizon.

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