Chicago Architecture Biennial
Illustration: Lauren Nassef | Art Direction: Jelena Schulz

On Sept. 16, the second Chicago Architecture Biennial will open to entice the public at large to “Make New History” by considering projects that tie our shared built heritage to architectural production today. Considering that a lot of big decisions about zoning, civic projects, and public-private ventures are made in the name of the public interest, we asked five exhibitors to define what the “public” really means.

“The public is a group of people who gather around a set of common values. I think that, for architects, designing a built environment that supports the production of these shared values—which can be cultural, epistemic, or performative—is pursuing public interest.” —Michelle Chang, assistant professor, Rice School of Architecture

“We think of the public as an active participant in design, but not in the usual ‘design by committee’ process. Instead, we approach buildings as part of a dialogue with the public that encourages people to construct narratives about place and culture through form and experience. The public animates a building both with moving bodies and with their imagination.” —Stewart Hicks, co-founder, Design With Company

“I am interested in the idea of the civic, which is grounded in civitas, the laws that bound citizens together in ancient Rome, articulating their rights and responsibilities. These relations between the one and the many actually form the foundation for any possibility of the res publica. Therefore, I am interested in civic space as the physical reflection of collective relations, whether established by law, custom, or tradition.” —Marshall Brown, principal, Marshall Brown Projects

“Like a practical joke, architecture is best when everyone is in on it.” —Carrie Norman, AIA, and Thomas Kelley, founders, Norman Kelley

“How we behave towards buildings says more than words about our collective interest in them, and people behave differently towards monuments than they do towards any other public building type. Consider the fact that people are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to protect monuments, as if such buildings were vitally essential to them. Monuments are a wellspring of lessons for architects who care for the public interest.” —Jorge Otero-Pailos, AIA, professor and director of historic preservation, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation