Is good architecture a fundamental human right?

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An installation by Sou Fujimoto, former Marcus Prize winner at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, in the foreground and “Corridor House” by Moss Architects
An installation by Sou Fujimoto, former Marcus Prize winner at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, in the foreground and “Corridor House” by Moss Architects
An installation by Sou Fujimoto, former Marcus Prize winner at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, in the foreground and “Corridor House” by Moss Architects

That question materializes with some urgency at the Chicago Architecture Biennial, a wide-ranging read on the field described as the first international survey of contemporary architecture staged in North America.

Not pinned to a particular theme as, say, the Venice Architecture Biennale generally is, the citywide exhibit presents a vast spectrum of ideas, from the most theoretical and utopian imaginings to the more pragmatic.

Still, it’s the sobriety of the work that dominates.

With an emphasis on social justice — from the politics of sewer line placement to the design of refugee housing — the biennial occupies one of Chicago’s symbols of aspirational architecture, as if to rebelliously assert itself.

Home base for the event is the Chicago Cultural Center, the city’s first central library. Built to signal Chicago’s rising sophistication in the Gilded Age, the building is a show stopper with glinting mosaics, rare marbles and the world’s largest stained-glass Tiffany dome.

But after traversing the opulent lobby transformed by objects oozing with privilege, Dwell magazine-worthy rocking chairs and pretty globs of light, one of the first installations visitors will see addresses outrage over acts of police violence and the deaths of unarmed black men in the United States. […]

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