Biennial Origins: A Big Idea From Emanuel And Funding From BP

Sarah Herda and Joseph Grima.

Sarah Herda and Joseph Grima.

At the press conference that kicked off the Chicago Architecture Biennial late last week, John Mingé, president of BP of America, explained his first reaction when Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked his company to foot the bill.

“We asked ‘What the heck is an architecture biennial?’” Mingé said, adding that BP quickly learned that “This is a celebration of architecture and there is no better city for it.”

Louis Susman.

Louis Susman.

Before Emanuel reached out to BP, he asked former U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom Louis Susman what he thought about the idea.

“I said, this is stunning,” said Susman, chairman of the biennial. “This is great for architecture and great for Chicago.”

The co-artistic directors of the Biennial — Sara Herda and Joseph Grima — also offered their thoughts on the official opening of the long-planned event that places Chicago firmly in the global architecture and design spotlight.

“It’s been an incredible process. We’ve reached all parts of the world,” Herda said. “It’s incredible to host the world here and start this conversation. It’s the first architecture biennial in North America. We went out into the world to ask architects to tell us what was important. We reviewed the works of 500 architects around the world and selected 100 representing 30 countries.”

Grima echoed her thoughts, saying, “What sets Chicago apart is its tradition of thinking bold thoughts, dreaming bold dreams. It’s interesting to see how Chicago has defined what we see around the world.”

Kunlé Adeyemi And Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Kunlé Adeyemi And Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Also addressing the official opening was visiting lecturer and Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi, who said: “Events like this are critical for the architectural community. Take your time walking through the building to look at the experimentation and possibilities everybody has been talking about. Let your mind wander and speculate.”

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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