Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

I’m not going to define history. No matter how heavily that word weighs on the Chicago Architecture Biennial, which opened last weekend. Neither will artistic directors Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee; although they provocatively titled the second iteration of the event “Make New History”, a phrase borrowed from the title of an artist book by Ed Ruscha.

In remarks to the press, they pointed to the many works displayed in the Chicago Cultural Center as explanation. And if these works are to be trusted, then history is not the dark angel haunting philosophers and historians, but rather something lighter: a shiny treasure trove of references – called forth by Google image search – to be appropriated and stylised.

Deadpan Ruscha understood the irony of his slogan. With three simple words he poked fun at the impossibility of escaping our past. An edition of Make New History sits on the shelves of Johnston Marklee‘s office (or so says editor Sarah Hearne in her introduction to the biennial catalog). Read More …

Taking cues from the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, architect Tatiana Bilbao frames her practice around the ethics of the “other,” a deep-seated philosophy and an almost moral compulsion to make architecture that puts the human subject first. It’s an idealist position, perhaps even old-fashioned, at a time when architecture’s social agenda is all too often shortchanged for formal hijinks. Indeed, Bilbao, who is in her early forties, began her career alongside other Mexican architects vying for the global stage, such as Fernando Romero, her friend and former business partner, who, with the swoopy shiny Soumaya Museum (2011), landed complex, computational architecture in Mexico City. Formally much quieter, Bilbao’s work carries its own powerful aesthetic — from early conceptual ideas to more recent projects such as the sensitive, light-flooded Tangassi funeral home in San Luis Potosi (2005–11) or the gleaming Bioinnova research building at the Monterrey Institute of Technology (2009–12) — and proves that architecture’s social responsibility doesn’t have to sacrifice beauty, materiality, or form. With 31 employees and projects in Belgium, China, France, Spain, and Switzerland, as well as her native Mexico, her namesake firm, which she runs with partners David Vaner and her sister Catia, is in high demand. But though she may have the schedule of a jet-setting “starchitect,” in person the mother of two small daughters is warm, down-to earth, and generous with the little time she has, sometimes to the point of exhaustion (just prior to the photo shoot for this issue, she was diagnosed with pneumonia). PIN–UP met Bilbao over a Peruvian lunch in downtown Los Angeles to talk about her interest in urban planning, her family history, and how working with Gabriel Orozco led to an architectural epiphany of sorts.

To read the full interview, download PDF here.