Reviewed December 2019
Karen DeWitt, Director, Harrye B. Lyons Design Library, NCSU Libraries
The Chicago Architecture Biennial, currently in the middle of its third occurrence, has produced a discrete website for each instance of the event; the 2015 and 2017 websites are archived on the Biennial site, and the 2019 version is hosted at the site’s main address. Each occurrence’s website presents informative content about Biennial events and participants, as well as discussions, videos, and blog posts. All site content is relevant to current issues in architecture and urbanism at the time of the Biennial and reflects each year’s theme. While much of the content is valuable, some issues such as broken links, design choices in the web layout, and lack of indexing may make it difficult for patrons to find and use the material.
Every instance of the Biennial has different curators, participants, and themes , which are reflected in each Biennial year’s website. The content is in general diverse, interesting, and well produced. 2015 and 2017 share the same layout, making it easy to understand and navigate the sites. The 2019 site is similarly laid out, but with some differences in background colors and a general absence of video or multimedia. All content on each website is free, and would potentially be of interest to students and faculty in architecture, urbanism, and city planning. The 2019 instance has more art-related events, and may be of interest to students and faculty in art or performance as well.
The 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial is underway now, having started in August, with events going on until January 2020. The website is optimized to function at any scale, on a computer or mobile device, and includes information about the curators and their curatorial statements, as well as events, participants, partners, and visitor information. The partners section includes some broken links, but otherwise most of the site was working well at the time of this reviews. The intense background color may cause issues for patrons with low or impaired vision. The background color of most pages seems to be randomly generated, with orange, yellow, green, and purple as common background colors. The print is black and all the images are black and white, although if an image is clicked on, the color version of the image will come up.
The 2017 and 2015 sites are very similar; 2017 presents interesting blog articles about the Biennial and a limited selection of video content. There is a calendar of the event that spans all years, but users must have the patience to work back month by month from 2019 to 2017 or 2015 to get access to the information about the events. Viewing the participant portion of the site on Mozilla made it appear that that page was broken; however, the content is there and displays in Chrome. The 2015 site has information about the Lakefront Kiosk competition, and also a multimedia section, with interviews, curatorial statements, performances on video, slideshows of exhibits, and information about participants. It also is best viewed in Chrome in certain sections.
The documentation of the Chicago Architecture Biennial allows patrons to experience parts of these past events, and gives a snapshot of architectural concerns at particular moments. However, users may note some important concerns with the site. Although articles about the Chicago Architecture Biennial abound, none of the content from the websites seems to be indexed in any generally available article database or catalog, making it difficult for interested patrons to find this content through their usual searching. Similarly, it is a pity that the multimedia and blog content does not seem to be indexed anywhere, and that the sites themselves seem to have issues with broken links or problems displaying content across browser types. Perhaps the Biennial society or some other organization will take up this concern and address these technical issues. In the meantime, the current Biennial site and the previous event websites are free, useful resources addressing architecture, urbanism, and the Biennials themselves. For patrons and researchers with an interest in these areas, as well as attendees of Chicago Architecture Biennial events and exhibitions, the current and past event websites are worthwhile resources to explore.