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New Dialogue

The innovative L.A.-based architects behind the MCA renovation turn their attention to the second Chicago Architecture Biennial this fall.

Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee Chicago Architecture Biennial

It is an honor to be chosen again as the host city for the second Chicago Architecture Biennial—its artistic directors, Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee, believe Chicago is an obvious location for the internationally renowned event. 

The resounding success of the first Chicago Architecture Biennial, which attracted more than half a million visitors from around the globe, is not a mystery, agree Artistic Directors of the follow-up this fall, Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee. “It’s like having a classical music festival in Venice—so obvious that I’m surprised it didn’t happen earlier,” Lee explains, pointing to the nearby Art Institute and Pritzker Pavilion, and the midcentury-modern buildings by Mies van der Rohe on Lake Shore Drive. “It’s a snapshot of history right there within a few blocks.”

Known for their wide-ranging and innovative designs, which are influenced by history, art, design and fashion, the spouses and award-winning founders of L.A.-based Johnston Marklee also oversaw the first-ever renovation of the Museum of Contemporary Art, which opens this summer. Designed for interaction and collaboration, the $16 million project includes a public gallery space along with an education center and a new street-level restaurant. “There is a social dimension to cultural experience today,” Johnston explains. “It’s an extension of people’s daily lives.”

So is architecture, Lee says—an extension that is more important than ever in an increasingly digital world because it is something that cannot be replicated online. Large-scale installations that make innovative use of the building will drive the point home. With the theme Make New History, “the biennial focuses on physical experience,” he explains. “You can feel the presence of architecture as something larger that envelops you and builds toward the city.”

The biennial will also spotlight the work of younger architects, they explain, as well as those who focus on design and research with a goal to inspire dialogue and new ideas. “We see it as a great opportunity to introduce what we hope is a new and long-lasting legacy,” Johnston explains. “It’s exciting.” Sept. 16-Jan. 7, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St.