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The Transformative Possibilities of The Available City with David Brown and Craig Wilkins

What is the future of the ten thousand city-owned vacant lots in Chicago? How can a community-oriented approach shift perspectives in how cities are built and vacant urban spaces are transformed? Deeply rooted in a framework for collaboration and community-led design, The Available City asks us to consider the collective impact that space can have in cities today.

The Transformative Possibilities of The Available City explores the practice of engaging communities in collaborative and participatory design processes. Architect, author, academic, and activist, Dr. Craig L. Wilkins, and Chicago Architecture Biennial 2021 Artistic Director David Brown will discuss Wilkins’ work on spatial justice in marginalized communities as it relates to a critical theme of The Available City: the future of the more than ten thousand city-owned vacant lots that are concentrated on the South and West Sides of Chicago, in predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods. 

Join for a conversation on possibilities of community collaboration and ways of changing perception of shared space for the present and future in spaces of Chicago and beyond.  

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Architect, author, academic, and activist, Dr. Craig L. Wilkins currently serves on the faculty at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. A 2020 American Landscape Association Bradford Williams Medal recipient and 2017 Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum National Design Award winner, he is the author of The Aesthetics of Equity: Notes on Race, Space, Architecture, and Music and Diversity Among Architects: From Margin to Center. His creative practice specializes in engaging communities in collaborative and participatory design processes. The former director of the Taubman College Detroit Community Design Center and founder of the award-winning Studio:DetroitHS – an initiative created to introduce under-represented high school students to careers in design – he is particularly interested in the production of various forms of space and understanding how publicly accessible and responsive design can radically transform the trajectory of lives and environments, particularly for those on the margins of society. His award-winning design work has been featured in such publications as The Washington Post, Miami Herald, Houston Chronicle, The Atlantic, and Fast Company. His critical essays and commentary have been published in the Journal of Architectural Education, International Review of African American Art, Art South Africa, Volume, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and Detroit News, among others. Recipient of the 2008 Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture's Collaborative Practice Award and the 2010 Kresge Fellowship, he is currently creative director of the WILKINS project (tWp), a social justice, strategic design alliance that provides architectural, urban design and planning services, public interest design solutions, and expertise in engaged public discourse.

David Brown is the Artistic Director of the 2021 Chicago Architecture Biennial. Brown is a Chicago-based designer, researcher, and educator. His work investigates non-hierarchical, flexible, and variable approaches to urban design within The Available City, an ongoing speculation on the potential of Chicago’s city-owned vacant land. Brown’s work has been exhibited in the Venice Architecture Biennale (2012), the Chicago Cultural Center’s Expo 72 (2013), the Chicago Architecture Biennial (2015), and received a grant from the Graham Foundation in 2011. Writing includes the book Noise Orders: Jazz, Improvisation, and Architecture (University of Minnesota Press, 2006) and essays “Curious Mixtures” in Center 18: Music in Architecture—Architecture in Music (Center for American Architecture and Design, 2014, Michael Benedikt, ed.) and “Lots Will Vary in The Available City” in The Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies (Oxford University Press, 2016, George Lewis and Ben Piekut, eds.). Brown has lectured on his work at Columbia University’s Center for Jazz Studies and the Politecno di Milano and has taught at Florida A&M University and Rice University. He is currently a Professor in the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

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Chicago Architecture Biennial's InDialogue Series is supported by Hindman Auctions.

Hindman, an internationally recognized fine art auction house, offers its clients an unyielding focus on service and holistic solutions to connect to the global art market. Hindman conducts over 100 auctions annually in 52 collecting categories such as fine art, jewelry, modern design, books and manuscripts, furniture, native American art, decorative arts, antiquities, couture, and Asian works of art. Founded and headquartered in Chicago, Hindman is now represented in 13 cities in the United States and operates five salerooms, more than any other auction house in the country.

Left: © Chicago Architecture Biennial / Nathan Keay, 2020; Right: Courtesy of the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan.