First exhibited in the U.S. Pavilion for the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, this exhibition comes at a time when national cultural practices are struggling with their histories. How do we come to terms with our past choices? What kinds of futures can we create?
American Framing examines the overlooked and familiar architecture of the country’s most common construction system and argues that a profound and powerful future for design can be conceived out of an ordinary past.
The open-air, 3-story wood structure encloses a social space to provide a place for reflection and conversation. It also introduces the world of wood framing as directly as possible by allowing people to experience firsthand its spaces, forms, and techniques. The full-scale work expresses the sublime and profound aesthetic power of a structural method that underlies most buildings in the United States.
Within the galleries at Wrightwood 659, visitors also will discover newly commissioned photographs from visual artist Daniel Shea and photographer and videographer Chris Strong, which address the labor, culture, and materials of softwood construction. A collection of scale models, researched and designed by students at the University of Illinois Chicago School of Architecture, presents the history of wood framing. Two sets of furniture by Ania Jaworska and Norman Kelley are installed in the gallery and within the full-scale wood structure. Both sets reproduce historic furniture pieces in common dimensional lumber.
Wood framing has a fascinating history. Originating in the early 19th century, softwood construction was a pragmatic solution to a need for an accessible building system among settlers with limited wealth, technical skills, and building traditions. Wood framing has been the dominant construction system ever since—more than 90 percent of new homes in the U.S. today are wood framed. The accessibility that shaped its early development continues to influence contemporary life and reflect democratic ideals in subtle, but powerful ways. For instance, softwood construction is exceptionally egalitarian. No amount of money can buy you a better 2×4. This fundamental sameness paradoxically underlies the American culture of individuality, unifying all superficial differences. Buildings of every size and style are made of wood framing.
Despite its ubiquity, wood framing is also one of the country’s most overlooked contributions to architecture. A variety of prejudices and habits explain its absence from intellectual discourse, which tends to zero in on the exotic while ignoring the ordinary. In the case of wood framing, a lack of disciplinary prestige stems from the same characteristics that make it so prevalent—it is easy, thin, and inexpensive. These qualities introduce a flexibility for form, labor, composition, class, sensibility, access, and style that open new possibilities for architecture. Wood framing is inherently redundant and transient, which allows for improvisation in design and construction, rough detailing, and ongoing renovation. It has been both a cause and effect of the country’s high regard for novelty, in contrast with the stability that is often assumed to be essential to architecture.
Paul Andersen is the Director of Independent Architecture, a Denver-based office with projects that speculate on the roles that form, repetition, and pop culture play in architecture. The firm’s work draws on common materials and building types, canonical works of architecture, and the idiosyncrasies of suburban design to bridge the worlds of high and low architecture. Projects have won numerous design competitions and awards, including a Progressive Architecture (P/A) Award, an American Architecture Prize, and several AIA awards.
Paul is a Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Illinois Chicago and was Co-Curator of the United States Pavilion at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. He has taught at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Cornell University Department of Architecture, and the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella. He was appointed a Fulbright Specialist in Architecture in 2013 and was the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Young Architect of the Year for Denver in 2015.
Paul has also been a guest curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver and the Biennial of the Americas, where he was a co-founder of the Denver House program. In addition to giving public lectures, he has authored several books, including The Architecture of Patterns and the forthcoming Brick Book, along with articles and essays on design.
Paul Preissner is a Professor at the University of Illinois Chicago School of Architecture and Co-Curator of the United States Pavilion at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. He has taught at Columbia University GSAPP, Syracuse University School of Architecture, the University of Pennsylvania School of Design, the University of Nebraska School of Architecture, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Southern California Institute of Architecture.
Paul runs Paul Preissner Architects, based in Chicago. With experience in housing, civic buildings, furniture, installations, and architectural exhibitions, the award-winning studio takes an experimental and imaginative approach to create unique social spaces distinguished by formal juxtapositions and modest materials. The firm’s project for Ring of Hope in Chicago received a 2019 Progressive Architecture (P/A) Award and Summer Vault, a joint project with Independent Architecture, won an Honorable Mention for the 2016 American Architecture Prize. The first book on his work, Kind of Boring, was published by ACTAR in November 2020.
Preissner’s work leans on experience from architecture, academia, and art to produce projects that challenge normalcy and bring value to the mundane. His projects have been exhibited in the United States and abroad, including in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the Buenos Aires International Biennale of Architecture, and the Rotterdam Biennale, and are a part of the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.
American Framing is presented at Wrightwood 659 by Alphawood Exhibitions in cooperation with the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). American Framing was originally made possible by The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. Department of State and the University of Illinois Chicago for presentation at the Pavilion of the United States at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia.
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