A project by Adjustments Agency.


The Chicago Architecture Biennial is proud to be supported by BP, one of the world's leading integrated oil and gas companies.

BP is also responsible for spilling 4.9 million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico—the worst marine oil spill in the history of oil spills—after its drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20, 2010.

Alongside the deaths of eleven people, the explosion and subsequent spill were responsible for indelibly damaging the beachlands, wetlands, and estuaries of a stretch of the Gulf coast between 622 and 1,300 miles long. Carol Browner, then the White House energy advisor, called it the "worst environmental disaster the US has ever faced." Dolphins in the area died at six times the normal rate and washed ashore ten times as often as before. Significant numbers of fish, such as tuna and amberjack, exposed to the oil—as well as the dispersants later used to clean it up—developed often fatal, or at least life-shortening, deformities of the heart and other organs. The vital ecosystems of deep sea coral reefs located far from the accident were shown to be greatly damaged. One, the size of half a football field, died off entirely. Like an iridescent, oil-slicked ripple, the damage spread up the food chain, surfacing under the shells of crabs and in the bodies of land animals and birds. The disaster contributed to eroding land and killing most marsh vegetation, increasing the risks of climate change-induced sea level rise in an area already particularly vulnerable.

In turn, fishing and tourism industries in the Gulf of Mexico suffered tremendous economic loss. The former lost an estimated $2.5 billion within just a few months. According to locals, crabbers in the region are trapping 75% fewer crabs, which also often come up dead, discolored, or riddled with holes. A Mississippi shrimper claimed that where once he would catch nearly 8,000 shrimp over a four day period, now he will catch only 800. Meanwhile the health effects on humans has yet to be fully understood.

The tourism industry, which employed over 400,000 people and generated $34 billion each year, lost over $23 billion. The real estate market plummeted. And BP, then the UK’s largest company with a revenue exceeding the GDP of New Zealand and 138 other countries, spent $56.4 billion in court fees, penalties, and clean-up costs. Its stock fell by 52% within fifty days.

But the destructive history of BP extends much further back than 2010. The company was founded by mining magnate William Knox D’Arcy as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in the early 20th century, after discovering oil in what-is-now Iran, and winning a concession from its monarchical government (through bribery). The contract, which D’Arcy designed, gave him full ownership of all the oil in the country in exchange for just 16% of profits—while also barring the Iranians from reviewing the accounting. Not long after, the British government bought the concession to help fuel its armies and its booming industrial economy. Later, the company would become known for its cruel treatment of workers, notably, during the Second World War, extraction continued unimpeded despite a cholera epidemic.

Then, in 1951, the democratically-elected premier of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, nationalized the company’s holdings. In response, the CIA and British intelligence led a coup, known as "Operation Ajax," against Mossadegh—the first in a long history of coups instigated by the US intelligence agency. They replaced him with Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who assumed autocratic control. Alongside Mossadegh, the coup brought down democracy in Iran. Less than twenty years later, Ayatollah Khomeini would rise to power after a revolution fueled by anti-imperialist sentiment, with BP as one of the preeminent symbols of Western hegemony.

Flash forward to two years ago, an unprecedented legal case was brought against BP. Gilberto Torres, a Colombian union leader, alleged that the oil and gas conglomerate was behind his kidnapping in February 2002 for organizing a protest over the murder of another union leader. At the time, a civil war was raging between the government and the Farc, a leftwing guerrilla group. Over the course of 30 years, an estimated 3,000 union activists were murdered and 6,000 more disappeared in the Casanare region of central eastern Colombia. At the center of the conflict was the country’s major oil reserves and, particular to this story, the Ocensa pipeline, which stretched 515 miles from Casanare to the Caribbean, and was controlled jointly by the state-owned Ecopetrol, BP, and other major oil companies.

Back then, BP—like other oil companies operating in Colombia—paid a dollar for every barrel in order to finance army and police protections for their assets. Much of that money went to the 16th brigade, an army unit accused of subcontracting work to local paramilitaries. According to the paramilitary group convicted of kidnapping Torres, Ocensa had paid for the crime. In other words, BP—which had a 15.2% stake in the company in addition to paying for the aforementioned protections—was more than complicit in the kidnapping. But it was not just kidnappings they are alleged to have paid for. Torres described to The Guardian how he witnessed his captors torture and kill a suspected Farc rebel held alongside him:

"They hit him. They insulted him. They spat on him. They battered him, until he confessed that he was part of Farc. With that admission, he signed his death warrant. They shot him twice in the neck. They cut his head, his legs and his arms off. And at the end the commander with a machete started to puncture his corpse. I understood then that this was going to happen to me."

In short, BP is responsible for vast environmental and social destruction, for the overthrowing of a democratically-elected government, and, allegedly, for kidnapping and murder—among other criminal and violent actions. While certain organizations, notably the Tate, have put an end to their patronage by BP in the face of intense pressure by activists, the Chicago Biennial has relied on it for both its iterations. The Chicago Architecture Biennial is complicit.

The Chicago Biennial is a manifestation of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s vision for a major international architectural event.

It is agreed upon, almost unanimously, that Democrat Emanuel’s career is in a state of perpetual freefall. Following a series of damning scandals in recent years, Obama’s former chief of staff faces a dismal approval rating, with 51.3% of Chicago residents believing the mayor should resign as of 2015. Despite winning landslide mayoral elections in 2011 and 2015, Emanuel’s cozy relationship with businessmen and Republican donors, as revealed in the release of his private calendar in 2011––instigated by a Freedom of Information Act request filed by two Chicago Reader reporters––evidences the mayor’s proclivity for private capital and signals a significant departure from much of his party’s ostensible policy concerns.

Emanuel’s work has historically been marked by a rather explicit desire for financial gains. The origins of his political career saw him at the helm of Bill Clinton’s fundraising efforts for his 1992 presidential bid, where he was known for aggressive and often bullish tactics to fill campaign coffers. His time on the campaign trail was followed by a three-year foray into investment banking, which most notably included a 14-month stint on the board of Freddie Mac––a public government-sponsored enterprise responsible for expanding the secondary market for mortgages in the US. While Emanuel did not serve during the 2008 financial crisis, Freddie Mac was embroiled in two other instances of corporate misconduct under his governance––an accounting scandal in 2003 wherein the company understated its earnings by almost $5 billion to appear profitable in the long-term, and an illegal funneling of corporate resources to host political fundraisers, which resulted in a $3.8 million fine from the Federal Election Commission. Emanuel was, in fact, one of the candidates who received financial support from these dealings during his 2002 congressional campaign––suffice to say the mayor has no qualms about accepting illegal corporate money to advance a political agenda.

That, despite belonging to the Democratic party, Emanuel leans dramatically right of center is the veritable through line of his career. Emanuel’s two largest achievements as Clinton’s advisor for policy and strategy were helping to pass NAFTA––a bill which stifled members of the working class and subsequently contributed to the Democrats losing their majority in the House of Representatives in 1994––and the 1994 crime bill––a violent piece of legislation that Clinton himself has admitted only "made the problem worse." Most startling, during his time with the Clinton administration, Rahm Emanuel heavily advocated for policy which, as described by the New Yorker, threatened to "out-Republican the Republicans" on immigration, urging Bill Clinton in a 1996 memo to "claim and achieve record deportations of criminal aliens."

Emanuel’s aggressively alienating policies surfaced prevalently throughout his terms as mayor. While he defeated his opponent Jesús "Chuy" García by 56% majority votes in the 2015 election, Emanuel faced significant backlash during this campaign for initiating the largest single round of public school closures in American history, an action which saw in total the shuttering of fifty Chicago Public Schools.

Most recently, Emanuel has come under considerable fire for the covering up of the 2014 fatal Chicago police shooting of black seventeen year old Laquan McDonald, who was shot sixteen times by a policemen while McDonald’s back was turned. After 13 months of silence from the city, a Cook County judge ordered a release of the video detailing the shooting from the policeman’s bodycam––a critical piece of evidence Emanuel claims never to have seen. A 2016 release of the mayor’s office’s emails revealed the administration was aware of the shooting two months after it occurred. It does not seem a coincidence that Emanuel kept mum about the shooting until after his reelection. The same 2015 poll revealing his dismal approval ratings also shows that 63.9% of Chicago residents believe Emanuel lied about never having seen the video.

In the midst of all this turmoil, the Chicago Architecture Biennial engineers a benevolent face of ingenuity for Rahm Emanuel. The Chicago Architecture Biennial is complicit.

According to the Chicago Biennial curators, the act of looking to the past to inform the present has always been central to architecture.

While different eras saw the
imprint of historyThis phrase implies a reductive understanding of "history"; that it forms a singular "imprint" renders history as a static, immovable object that can be read objectively.
more strongly than others, one of the most dramatic ruptures in the evolution of architecture in the last century took place between
history and modernityTo state that a rupture occurred between "history" and "modernity" is to objectify both and position them within a binary, implicitly privileging the former. Yet modernity, if anything, is a historical category—the word refers to the periodization of the past as loosely unified by shared ideologies and narratives. Holes appear throughout this constructed image of the past. Modernity, as the curators nod to below, cannot be understood as a monolithic entity. It only exists as such through the invention of a historical narrative. In short, it does not exist outside of history and therefore could not be divided from it.
. Spawned from a revolutionary and positivist climate, early modernism’s repression of history
severed architecture’s future from its pastModernity, if anything, was history-obsessed. Modernist figures may have attempted to distinguish their present from the past, but it was always already in a dialectical relationship to precedent architectures. For example, Adolf Loos writes in "Ornament and Crime," "Shall every age have a style of its own and our age alone be denied one?" Here, Loos reveals a central fact of "modernism": an anxiety about how their present would look to future generations within a constructed timeline of historical, and fundamentally arbitrary, periods.

On another level, history—as we understand it today—must be understood as itself a modern invention. Where pre-modern historiography understood itself as an art, as the construction of narratives, it was in the 19th and 20th centuries that it came to be understood as a social science—an ostensibly objective understanding of that which inherently precludes the possibility of an object gaze. The last two centuries also witnessed a proliferation of multiple "histories," from a Marxist perspective to a Hegelian to the Annales School. There is never just one thing, "history." This is itself a constructed narrative.
While measured and moderate attempts to incorporate historical models before and after the apotheosis of modernism brought about movements ranging from
NovecentoAs a movement, Novecento was far from measured and moderate. Formed in Milan in 1923 by gallery owner Lino Pesaro and writer and art critic Margherita Sarfatti, who was also Mussolini's mistress, was an Italian art and architecture movement founded on the rhetoric of Fascism. The movement was created to counter the European avant-garde and to reestablish the dominance of traditional and neoclassical Italian art and architecture. The group eventually became associated with the fascist state propaganda department.
, rationalism, Neoliberty, postmodernism, and Tendenza to various modes of revivalism, the zeal of modernism prevailed, obscuring these short-lived episodes. The insistence on creating works that are unprecedented and unrelated to
architectures of the pastMuch of so-called "modernism" was a reaction to precedent architectural practices. Le Corbusier, for example, drew his image of a new city in reaction to the past of Paris and other cities. The beginning chapters of the "Towards a New City" refer, respectively, to the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries in relation to one another. Or there is the Bauhaus, which attempted to address issues of the industrial city. They sought to rectify architecture's previous, exclusive attachment to upper classes. They endeavored to make housing that was affordable, hygienic, and of high quality.

Likewise, it's not particularly accurate to say that the architecture at the beginning of the millennium was "unrelated to architectures of the past." The 'starchitect' phenomenon, if anything, is a resurrection of the heroic image of the architect that dominated the early 20th century, from Le Corbusier to Mies van der Rohe. Architecture here might not be "collective," in the sense of co-owning the means of production, but it is certainly made in relationship to the past, to the concatenation of architects and architectures preceding it as well as living concurrently with it. How else could one be a towering figure if not in contrast to the rest of us?

And, even in the realm of architectural discourse, the past continued to haunt. Whether in Rem Koolhaas discussing "retroactively" New York or in Bernard Tschumi attempting to deconstruct architecture's metaphysics of presence, the past is present.
reached new heights at the beginning of the millennium, as more and more architects became reluctant to view what they do as being part of a larger collective project or architectural history.

Today, history represents neither an
oppressive past While the curators may be writing against the sense that historical style stultified architectural design, their rhetoric gestures at a more insidious obfuscation of history that appears to be at play in this text: namely, they side-step the fact that all of history as it’s told is the history of violent classist, racialized, gendered, and sexual violence.

History is nothing but the representation of oppressive pasts—and this is as true today as ever. From Baltimore to Los Angeles, monuments of a violent history of slavery and Jim Crow legislation are currently being disassembled amidst intensifying controversy. History is always made under the shadow of its oppressive past. Charlottesville is history in action, performed among specters of violence.

Detaching history as style from history as an archive of violences is itself a violence.
that modernism tried to discard nor a retrograde mind-set against
unbridled progressAnd yet, Walter Benjamin wrote in 1940, "A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress."
. Instead, at a time when there is
too much information and not enough attentionThis suggests that the increasing amount of knowledge about historical violence, made possible by new technologies, is excessive. Furthermore, this notion suggests that the curators would wish to limit the plurality of subjectivities presently contributing to the creation of a more holistic understanding of history, and all its complexities.

This view also works to delegitimize the importance of new platforms for documentation and review, and the urgency of socio-political conditions that warrant them.
—when a general
collective amnesia perpetuates a state of eternal presentnessThis is an absurd assertion.

What amnesia is suffered by protesters of the Black Lives Matter movement, confronting the persistent violences enacted by slavery and years of politically mandated racism?

How can we accuse those Native Americans protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline, which demonstrates a continuation of the state's view that native people's right to and ownership of land is expendable and illegitimate, of living in a state of eternal presentness?
—understanding the channels through which history moves and is shaped by architecture is more important than ever. A generation of architects has noted a renewed interest in precedents of architecture.
Committed to progress"Progress" is referenced without being defined. The curators, who harangue so much about history, ignore the role that narratives of progress made in inflicting violence on certain populations, as Benjamin had noted. What is the progress to which these architects are committed?
, but
always from within an architectural traditionThis gets to one of the biggest issues of the Biennial's themes: that it constitutes a hermeneutics of architecture. Focusing on the "architectural tradition" limits who will see and understand the exhibition. Tradition is always exclusive, always belonging to one group and not another.
, these architects are producing innovative and subversive works
grounded in the fundamentalsThe curators likely intend for this reference to "fundamentals" to conjure something like Vitruvian dictates. But one could easily argue that more than 'firmitas' (stability), architecture is fundamentally unstable, a constant cycle of construction and demolition that fuels the capitalist economy by creating new terrains for the expenditure of surplus capital. One could argue that the heart of 'utilitas' (use-value) is in fact to erect hierarchies, to build walls, to establish borders. And one could argue that 'venustas' (beauty) means little to nothing at all if unmoored from imposed norms.
of the discipline, and rooted in the fabrics of the cities where they are built, without feeling pressured to
keep up with micro-trendsThis implies that the narrative of history is already set. Who decides which "micro-trends" have value and which do not? Could this return to a historicist formalism not also be a "micro-trend" that will soon be forgotten?

History, it is commonly said, is written by the victors.
being accused of cultural appropriationNo one should be exempt from criticism for cultural appropriation.

The Chicago Architecture Biennial 2017 will showcase the
diversity of work from around the worldWith 14 firms, New York City is the most represented place in the Biennial, closely followed by LA with 13. Berlin, Chicago, and London are all tied with 9. Meanwhile, there is not a single practice from Africa represented in the exhibition, just one from the Middle East, and only six from the entirety of Asia. There are seven practices represented from all of Latin America.
to examine the underpinnings of this resurgence of historical interest. Titled "Make New History," this second edition of the Biennial will focus on the efforts—across registers of building and discursive production—of contemporary architects to align their work with
versions of historyThis marks the beginning of a shift in tone in the statement where the curators effectively contradict many of their earlier claims.

Encouraging the examination of "version of history" implies that history is, in fact, multiple.
. Through the lens of architecture, the Biennial aims to examine the interplay of design and the broadening access to, as well as recall of, historical source material. In the realm of building practice—from new construction to adaptive reuse to conservation—it will investigate the ways in which the architect’s encounter with a site is, in fact, the act of interpreting and responding to a prior accumulation of state and government regulations, social conventions, and markers of personhood. Considerations for architecture in the context of history include the regulation and management of power and identity; what prevails and what does not; and how to recognize the significance of untold narratives. Now, more than ever, the assumptions embedded in
cultural exempla and civic imaginariesThe previous few sentences mark an admirable turn from the essentializing and reductive discourse that preceded it—or an apologism, depending on your perspective.

Yet while calling for examination and discussion of cultural exempla and civic imaginaries, the curators entirely ignore the role of the Biennial itself. That is to say, rather than neutral ground, the Biennial must be understood as an act of architecture in itself. Specifically, the Biennial is an act of image production, constructing for its sponsor BP and its instigator Rahm Emanuel veneers of cultural benevolence that mask their respective, previously discussed, violences.

Entirely unexamined is the assumption that cultural production is itself valuable and necessary, regardless of what ends it serves.
require examination and discussion.

With a legacy that is embedded equally in the buildings and fabric of the city and in a lineage of media and cultural production, Chicago will provide a
backdropPosturing the city of Chicago as a "backdrop" to the concerns of the Biennial effectively removes any need for the examination of the "state and government regulations, social conventions, and markers of personhood," embedded within its own architectural landscape.

While Chicago, in hosting the Biennial, wields its power of cultural production (purchased by BP) to extend a critique of architectural conditions abroad, it shirks any responsibility to include interrogation of the city's own undoings, which exist on many social, political and economic fronts.
to typify disciplinary concerns around the continued importance and value of history in architecture. A calendar of events, emanating from the Chicago Cultural Center outward to Biennial partners, will create comparative encounters with various sites across the city. The Biennial will foreground questions and ideas regarding
the making of a new historyThe idea of a "new history" implies that a past history has ended, that histories are discrete entities rather than intertwined processes. Here, as elsewhere, the past is objectified. Do the curators mean a rewriting of history? Or the construction of world-historical events after an assumed end to them? If the former, who gets to write it? If the latter, when did history last end?

"Make New History" conjures ghosts as it seeks to banish them. Throughout the statement, the past, present, and future are understood as stable entities. This is an assertion of a metaphysics of presence, which denies the spectral character of temporality, the ways in which the present is always haunted by the past and the future. In so doing, it recalls the doctrinaire fundamentalism of the modernisms it tries to reject.

Perhaps most disturbing, its phrasing inevitably conjures an image of red hats emblazoned with "Make America Great Again"—an ideology of the contemporary moment that invests in the past a "greatness" absent from the present at the expense of an understanding of the violences that mark both.
: What political role has history played in the regulation of buildings and the city? How can buildings speak to history without being nostalgic or pastiche? And how might we build connections to the past that are relevant and valuable to our present?

entry into the domain of the art biennialArchitecture's entry into the domain of the art biennial far from neutralizes the Chicago Architecture Biennial from critique, when the forum of artistic representation is so notoriously fraught with an insidious inclination towards the production of cultural and financial capital.
, almost 40 years ago in Venice, was marked by a reflection on the relationship of history and memory in architecture. During its inaugural edition in 1980, the Venice Architecture Biennale showcased an expanding repertoire of theatrical devices and scenographic modes of display. Today, the role of history in the field of architecture has changed, as has the role of the exhibition. On the one hand, the biennial format lies at the core of architecture’s cultural and exhibitionary project:
a forum to reach and produce new audiencesThis proposed "core of architecture's cultural and exhibitionary project," borrows again from the art world in a way totally unsuitable to architecture's larger project. If architecture is a mode of enacting structural changes and contributions to uplift society, its discursive realm should not solely be concerned with impressing its ideas upon an expanding audience.

Rather, it might more effectively support its goals by fostering a forum for architects and non-architects to experiment with new interventionary strategies. If the biennial solely supports the representation of architecture, it effectively self-sabotages.
. On the other, it replicates the enduring question of how to showcase and tell stories about absent buildings. This question has been addressed by a suite of new modes to express and mine architecture’s own traditions. Often, these new methods of communication reflect an intensified engagement with media and approaches traditionally seen as art practices. This sort of overlap has served to blur the expertise and responsibilities of distinct disciplines.

The relationship between
art and architectureThis is correct but not elaborated upon. As mentioned above, the entrance of architecture into the "art world" is far from neutral.
is a historical narrative unto itself. Both practices have
evolved aroundThe curators write "evolved around," reifying the common understanding that architecture and art merely re-present the world rather than act in it. Architecture and art have not just "evolved around," but have also themselves made public space, specific sites, and national and civic identities change. Whether or not these changes constitute an "evolution" is another question.
the changing nature of public space, in the function of specific sites, and in the expanding definitions of national and civic identities. To continue the unity of architecture and the exhibition format of the biennial is to acknowledge these commingling histories. It also becomes—in its very act and existence—a nod to the past, which stands to strongly influence both the present and future of design depictions. At stake is the furthering of diverse identities and cultural politics, and the way in which these identifiers shape the changing representations of the architectural practice.