Credit: Rudy Balasko

Under a canopy of trees in Portugal’s Quinta Da Conceiçao Park, Belgian architects Jan De Vylder, Inge Vinck, and Jo Taillieu spent hours entranced by youngsters hitting tennis balls against the bright coral walls of Fernando Távora’s modernist pavilion. Arrested by how the simple game transformed the strict horizontal planes of pink concrete, they contemplated the friction between architecture and daily life. As part of the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial, they invite Chicagoans to re-create this game of tennis against landmarks around the city.

“Architecture, whether good or bad, is where you live, where you go to school, where you work and where you play,” coartistic director Sarah Herda says. The biennial has invited more than 100 emerging and established architects from around the world to showcase sketches, digital renderings, and scale models as well as more unconventional displays, such as an electrifying march choreographed by Bryony Roberts and the South Shore Drill Team on the grid of Federal Plaza.

The exposition is conceived as a laboratory to incubate new ideas in architecture. “I am interested in the exhibition as a test site,” Herda says. One gallery in the Chicago Cultural Center will be devoted to bold visions for Chicago—local firm UrbanLab has proposed building an island in Lake Michigan that would filter the pollutants from our contaminated river. In yet another gallery, three full-scale houses will be constructed, one for rural Mexico, one for the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, and one for the United States.

A constellation of auxiliary sites will spread out from the Chicago Cultural Center into the neighborhoods. For Montrose Beach, Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi has designed a pop-up pavilion from raw historic limestone: stepped white rocks projecting out into the water form a modernist diving board that I like to imagine children jumping off in hot summer months.
See for the full schedule of events.

10/3-1/3, various times and venues, 312-854-8200,