Two Sides of Different Coins: The P+DC & Chicago Architecture Biennial

If the Internet and my email have taught me anything over the last few months, it’s that the first ever Chicago Architecture Biennial is upon us and that the Practice and Design Conference (hosted by AIA Colorado) was being combined with the AIA Western Mountain Region Conference in Keystone, CO. There was no shortage of hype for the two conferences, and for good reason.

CAB P+DC guide

The Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB) was envisioned as an event that would align with similar events in Venice, Italy and Sao Paolo, Brazil, among others, and would provide a platform for architects, artists, and activists to envision the future of the built and spatial environments and our role in it. Beginning in October of 2015 and running into early January, the CAB is a free event that showcases exhibits of architectural installations, speculative designs, prototypes, and displays that speak to a wide variety of social and building issues.

The P+DC/WMR conference, which was held this past weekend in Keystone, CO over the course of three days, showcased a variety of speakers who addressed their approach to architectural practice, as well as a wide swath of products and consultant services via the exhibit floor. For anyone that has gone to an AIA hosted conference, this formula will sound familiar. The key difference between the Keystone conference and any other AIA conference, other than scale, is that the focus is specifically on the practice of architecture and all topics for discussion primarily focus on current projects of practicing architects.

A little over a week ago, I was in Chicago with family and we decided to stop by the primary location of the CAB. We were only able to spend a little over an hour viewing the exhibits, but left incredibly impressed by the thoughtfulness of the work, the craftsmanship of the models, images, and prototypes, and by the social responsibility that the exhibitors took upon themselves when thinking about the future of architecture.

Just a few days later, I trekked up to Keystone to attend the P+DC. This was my first year attending this particular conference, but I had attended AIA conferences before, so I had some idea of what to expect. What I found though, was that the conference functioned more as a retreat in which to view current practices instead of the whirlwind of events that accompany typical conventions. The Keystone conference was much more like three all day classes with guest lecturers than a conference with a dozen speakers and break out sessions happening at one time. Because of this, the conference was a much more focused event with a streamlined array of topics.

The main similarity that I drew from attending the two events within a week of each other was… I attended them both within a week of each other. That’s it. That and that they were both heavily broadcast events leading up to their kick off. Other than that, the two could not have been more different.

CAB functioned as a free exhibition of work in a museum on Michigan Ave. in downtown Chicago.

PD+C functioned as a three-day conference retreat in the mountains of Colorado.

CAB focused on the future of architecture, what architecture and design can do to better the world, and what strides we can take to create a more socially responsible built environment.

PD+C focused on the current state of architecture and how it is practiced at different offices in the US.

CAB was a free event that was heavily advertised to the public and attempted to actively engage the public in what architecture is and what it can be.

PD+C is an event meant to provide a retreat for architects to reflect on their current practice and the work of their peers.

I am not advocating that one event is better than the other. I am saying that the two events are drastically different because they serve different purposes. That being said, there are lessons that can be taken from each event and applied to the other. The CAB could have had an “architectural summit” type of event in which it gathered hundreds of architects from across the country and the world in one place to give lectures, partake in events, and engage the city of Chicago in an intense dialogue instead of spreading the events out over a series of months. The PD+C, on the other hand, can take a page from the CAB by focusing the conference more on looking forward while engaging the public and other architects in a conversation about the role that architecture plays for our futures. It could even go as far as to invite architects and designers to display boards or models for a design competition or about a certain topic.

There may not be a way to combine the two conferences/events. They are unique and have different end goals. Still, by considering the lessons of both, we can view architecture from a variety of scales. If we zoom out and view it from a speculative and macro sense, we can let innovation take hold of our zoomed in, day-to-day, tasks of practicing architecture. If we consider architecture from a variety of viewpoints, including our own public perception, we may start to see a more engaged and design process that fulfills the goals of a wider swath of parties.

Side note: you can learn more about the Chicago Architecture Biennial here

And be sure to attend the Practice + Design Conference next fall in Keystone, CO!

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