The Chicago Architecture Center isn't the only major new venue dedicated to celebrating architecture in the city. A new space in Lincoln Park, Wrightwood 659, promises to be a place of contemplation and study not only of architecture, but of social justice.
Designed by Japanese Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando from the brick shell of a former apartment building, the space was founded by longtime LGBTQ activist and philanthropist Fred Eychaner of Newsweb Corporation and architectural historian Dan Whittaker. Although the current exhibit, "Ando and Le Corbusier: Masters of Architecture" ( running through Dec. 15 ), focuses on the building's creator and one of his primary influences, the space will also make room for art focusing on social issues and engagement.
Eychaner, whose Ando-designed private home sits next to the new gallery, is also president of the Alphawood Foundation. Wrightwood 659 will continue the mission of Alphawood Exhibitions, a subsidiary of the foundation, which brought groundbreaking exhibits such as Art AIDS America and Then They Came for Me ( a documentary exhibit on the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II ) to the old Alphawood Gallery venue on North Halsted. ( That space is now a bank. )
The plan isn't to have a permanent collection. Rather, there will be two exhibitions a year, alternating between socially engaged art and architecture. Lisa Cavanaugh, director of Wrightwood 659, said "We will evaluate each opportunity as it arises. There is no plan to have a permanent curatorial staff. Rather, we will act opportunistically to present exhibits that promote our values and seek out curatorial resources to support those opportunities."
Ando, a self-taught architect, has long cited the Swiss-French Le Corbusier ( who was born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret ) as an inspiration. One of Le Corbusier's interests was providing better living spaces for workers in cities through urban planning. Like Ando, he also favored reinforced concrete as a building material and horizontal bands of windows that created sanctuaries of light. Both elements are integral to the new gallery.
The exhibit fills all three floors of exhibition space—18,000 square feetat Wrightwood 659. ( The ground floor is for administrative offices. ) Ando stripped out the interior of the former 30-unit apartment building, leaving only the original brick faÃžade and inserting a new steel and reinforced concrete skeleton. The old bricks were re-used for the walls and an open concrete staircase rises through the soaring atrium. ( Ando added a fourth floor to the original three-story structure. )
The second floor, devoted to Le Corbusier, traces his development from his "Purist" works of the 1920s to his design for the Assembly of Chandigarh in 1954, capital of the Haryana and Punjab states in newly independent India. Furniture, paintings, drawings, photos and models ( including over 100 miniature maquettes of Le Corbusier projects created by Ando's students ) provide an expansive overview of his work, from private homes to housing developments to chapels. Informative wall panels point out the groundbreaking aspects of his work, such as open floor plans and rooftop green spaces, still championed today.
Le Corbusier's unsavory connections with Fascist publications and beliefs are glancingly referenced, which might seem counterintuitive in a space dedicated in part to social justice. Recent books have wrestled with whether he was a true believer or an opportunist. How much that influences how one views Le Corbusier's work today is a good question, though it seems quite apparent that it is his artistic vision and not his politics that inspired Ando's work.
A profile in Habitus Living earlier this year by Belinda Aucott called Ando "a great advocate of social and environmental causes." He donated the $100,000 purse from his 1995 Pritzker Prize to the orphans of the Kobe earthquake, which occurred that same year.
One can see Le Corbusier's influence on Ando in the third and fourth floors of the space, devoted to Ando's work. One room is given over to a large-scale model of his Benesse Art Site on the Japanese island of Naoshima. Projected video on large curved screens behind the model ( which features a curvilinear wavelike base suggestive of sand dunes ) bring images of the land and nature into focus as we contemplate the collection of museums designed by Ando for the island. It's reminiscent of the Chandigarh development in some ways.
Three of Ando's most prominent American commissionsthe Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis, the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texasare represented by large-sche exhibit features work focusing on what citizenship and belonging means today. In fall of 2019, the space will present work by Japanese painter Tetsuya Ishida.
Meantime, the space itself is a work of art from one of the most influential living architects.
Wrightwood 659 is at 659 W. Wrightwood Ave. Admission is by advance reservation onlyno walk-ins permitted. Information and reservations available at Wrightwood659.org .