Review of the third edition of Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB)

It was a week, like many weeks in recent memory, which underscored the themes of the biennial curated by artistic director Yesomi Umolo, curator/educator Sepake Angiama and architect Paulo Tavares.

Although its lowercase title ...and other such stories might suggest a more recumbent position, this biennial is teaming with anthropogenic urgencies: violence caused by structural racism, global housing inequities, and scars left by colonisation and resource extraction.


The under-designed feeling continues in the bright white corridors: there are only 43 installations on view in the building (other contributions are off-site or performances) and the scaling back has left many circulation areas not only free of artworks, but also with little to remind visitors that this is a multi-million dollar architecture exposition.

Clichés quickly stack up: extensive research for visitors to read, aka the "book on the wall", lots of plywood, participatory gathering spaces and dense video works. After so many years of this kind of exhibition making, shouldn't we reevaluate the efficacy and visual delight of these approaches? Which is why a favourite piece is Skievvar by artist-architect Joar Nango, which playfully combines paper-thin dried halibut stomachs, traditionally used as windows in Indigenous Sámi construction, with video projections to speculate on a post-colonialist architecture.

Yet, in a ground floor gallery, a pair of flat screen monitors show City Housing in a Cultural Matrix (Mumbai) by collective CAMP, a three-part interactive film – each more than 90 minutes – documenting the complexity of urban housing and slum clearance in Mumbai through archival footage, legal documents and interviews. It's impenetrable.