Architects and deans Michael Speaks, Hernan Diaz Alonso, Amale Andraos, and Brett Steele, respond to Patrik Schumacher's criticisms of the Chica

The final question of the Dean’s Panel at the 2015 ACSA Fall Conference was a doozy. The symposium took place at the Syracuse University School of Architecture and was organized by assistant professors Roger Hubeli and Julie Larsen. Syracuse SoA Dean Moderator of the Dean’s Panel, Michael Speaks asked the panelists, SCI-Arc Dean Hernan Diaz Alonso, Columbia University GSAPP Dean Amale Andraos, and Architectural Association Dean Brett Steele, to respond to Patrik Schumacher’s criticisms of the Chicago Architecture Biennial.

“I would like to get your responses to a post I found online today by Patrik Schumacher,” said Speaks, “Patrik asserts that the Chicago Architectural Biennial is not architecture because it's not buildings. He goes off on post-modernism and on social ‘do-gooderism’ and he suggests that these kinds of projects have usurped the role of a proper architecture biennial that exhibits buildings. Here is what Patrick wrote.” He pulled out a printed Facebook post by the German gadfly,1  and continued:

As the audience chuckled at the bluntness and at times absurdity of what Schumacher said, the three deans had their own short pause of amusement, but nonetheless stepped up to the plate to address the debate. Steele joked that it would be bad to give Patrick the last word, which solicited laughter form the audience. The first to respond was SCI-Arc leader Alonso, who said with little emotion, “I haven't been to the Biennial so whatever I say is without that context. I want to be very clear about this. I probably would agree with some of Patrik’s assessment.” He continued, “That doesn't mean that I think the Biennial in Chicago doesn't have the right to present that body of work. It’s a healthy debate. I think architecture goes in cycles. It’s not the first time that architecture has gone in this cycle and that these critiques come to the discussion. I don't think it's fair to paint every participant in the Biennial with that brush. For some of them, yes, they will fit that mold.“

Alonso continued, “Some of them, I know for a fact, do not fit. I think that's the problem with all biennials, and that would be my criticism of this one and all of them: It is the format in general. Why do they need to be so big? Because the moment it gets too big, it becomes very, very difficult to create any coherency.  This is true for the Venice Biennale, for any biennial you can think of in recent times: they all suffer one way or another from lack of coherence and that is what Patrik criticizes."


Brett Steele was up next and he explained the politics and personalities behind the statement and its disciplinary ambitions. He claims that Patrik is trying stake his claim in the discipline by asking, “Why wasn’t I invited?” Steele posited that the field is constructed and curated, but these fights are important and interesting. 

Tangentially, he worked through his thoughts about American architecture in general, remarking that the discipline in the U.S. had been co-opted by the AIA, and had morphed into a global machine that did not value research, only providing services. Steele contrasted this notion of architecture with a European impetus for questioning the discipline. He then pivoted to wondering if Patrik’s squabble was about his competitors, like Bjarke Ingels, being included. Steele furthered his critique of Schumacher, saying that claiming that the designs in the Biennial are not contemporary architecture is missing the point.

Speaks then asked Dean Andraos to weigh in, “Amale, You're in the Biennial,” Speaks said.

“Yes... First of all, I don't know Patrik and I don't really care. 

  • 1. “The State of the Art of Architecture" delivered by the Chicago Architecture Biennial Exhibition must leave lay-visitors bewildered by one overwhelming subliminal message: Contemporary architecture ceased to exist, the discipline’s guilt and bad conscience has sapped its vitality, driven it to self-annihilation and architects have now en masse dedicated themselves to doing good via basic social work. A less charitable interpretation sees the hijacking of the newly created Chicago Architecture Biennial by a marginal, but academically entrenched, ideological tendency within the discipline that has abandoned their societal remit of innovating the built environment at the world’s technological frontier and instead pours its allocated resources into concept-art style documentation and agitation of behalf of underdeveloped regions and milieu. I am rather suspicious of these creative/artistic engagements with poverty. It sometimes risks to mutate into a questionable aesthetization of poverty, a questionable romance. Questionable because what the poor of this world most probably (and rightly) aspire to requires little creativity and imagination because it is already plotted out for them by the ladder of development leading up to what has been achieved in the most advanced arenas of world civilization, where—in contrast—true, path-breaking creativity is indeed called for. Even if my skepticism [sic] is too pessimistic and genuine concern and developmental help is forthcoming from the protagonists exhibited at the Chicago Architecture Biennial, one still wonders whether these laudable concerns should usurp the space that was presumably meant to be allocated to contemporary architecture.