The city of Chicago has long been known as forward-thinking on architecture. Many greats like Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Mies van der Rohe, and recent stars like Jeanne Gang and John Ronan have put their stamp on modern architecture right here in Chicago. And next year, the city will debut a global architecture exhibition in the first Chicago Architecture Biennial.
The city is calling this biennial “North America’s biggest survey of international contemporary architecture.”
The event is up against a very saturated market, however. Many other cities hold similar events in architecture, art and design—including one of the more well known and prestigious events held in Venice, Italy—the Venice Biennale. Chicago will have to compete with many other cities for tourists’ interest and dollars. City officials are aware of that, and in their initial estimates of attendance for the event, they gave very conservative figures of 200,000 to 300,000 attendees.
These figures came from the number of visitors the Chicago Cultural Center sees in a typical three-month period, which is where the event will be centered. But with the rich culture and architectural history that Chicago already holds, it should help give the city a leg up in the international playing field.
Michelle Boone, commissioner of the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (the agency working on the biennial) was quoted in the Chicago Tribune as saying, “One of the goals is to firmly cement Chicago’s identity as a cultural destination. We have all this here. We think it’s time the rest of the world knew it too.”
Organizers of the event hope that by scheduling Chicago’s biennial on odd-numbered years and Venice holding its event on even-numbered years, globetrotting architectural connoisseurs will bounce between the two cities to sample the latest innovations the field has to offer. Right now the target for Chicago’s biennial is from October 1, 2015 through January 3, 2016.
But there are some noticeable differences between the two. One differentiating factor of the Chicago biennial versus the Venice exhibition is that Chicago’s event will be free admission, unlike Venice, which charges a 2-day ticket price of around $41. Chicago is aiming to capture a range of attendees from architects and students to tourists and cultural buffs.
The city is trying to pay for the vent with private money. Mayor Emanuel has already secured a $2.5 million donation from British oil giant BP, which has offices in Chicago’s Loop and Naperville. At least another $1.5 million must be secured in order for the biennial to take place.