Spontaneous Interventions Chicago 2013Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good makes U.S. debut at the Chicago Cultural Center  May 24 to September 1, 2013

The City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) hosted Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good for its first U.S. appearance. The exhibition—the official U.S. presentation at the 13th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale (2012)—was installed in the ground-floor Michigan Avenue Galleries of the Chicago Cultural Center from Memorial Day (May 24) to Labor Day (September 1).

Video by Lindsey Peterson for Medill Reports, June 4, 2013

Spontaneous Interventions, organized by Cathy Lang Ho on behalf of the New York nonprofit Institute for Urban Design, is devoted to the growing movement of architects, designers, artists, and everyday citizens acting on their own initiative to bring improvements to the urban realm, creating new opportunities and amenities for the public. The exhibition received over 178,000 visitors in Venice, and earned a Special Mention from the Golden Lion jury, the first time the United States has been honored in the history of the Venice Architecture Biennale.

“We’re so pleased that Chicago is the first destination for this thought-provoking display as the City has always been at the forefront of architecture and design,” said DCASE Commissioner Michelle T. Boone.

The Chicago installation recreated the lively exhibition design of pull-down banners, created by Brooklyn design studio Freecell and Berkeley-based communication design firm M-A-D for the Venice Biennale. The contents of the exhibition were updated to include more recent and more local projects. Among the 84 projects presented, more than a dozen were from Chicago, including several that also appeared in Venice.

“American urbanism always seems to circle back to Chicago: grid, fire, skyscraper, Burnham, rivers reversed, White City, sociology, Jane Addams, the Daleys, the projects, community organizing, urban renewal, greening,” said Michael Sorkin, New York architect, president of the Institute for Urban Design, and founder of Terreform. “We are honored to bring a view of a new, democratic design movement that is growing across the country but with deep roots in America’s most essential city.”

Spontaneous Interventions Chicago 2013

In conjunction with the exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center, Spontaneous Interventions planned a pop-up “outdoor living room” in Millennium Park, designed by Chicago-based MAS Studio, led by architect Iker Gil. The space was to serve as an outpost for the exhibition and a venue for exhibition-related programs, including talks, panels, tours, workshops and more. The space featured a colorful canopy and seating made of salvaged lumber by local artist/woodworker John Preus of Dilettante Studios. Unfortunately, this portion of the exhibit was not realized. However, the Dilettante Studios seating was put to use in the Exhibit Reading Room, where many of the programs and talks took place.

“Our goal is to use the exhibition as a framework for understanding a larger movement, in which citizens all over the world are devising and implementing clever, low-barrier urban interventions to make their cities more inclusive, sustainable, pleasurable, and safer,” said Cathy Lang Ho, a New York–based design journalist and curator. “For this reason, we have organized a rich roster of programs that will place the trend of tactical urbanism in the context local urban issues and citizen action.”

All summer long, programs took place at the Cultural Center, and at various offsite locations. Program director was Samantha Topol, a Chicago editor and writer. Many of the programs were organized in partnership with Chicago-based designers, nonprofits, community organizations, and city agencies. A calendar of events is posted to CALENDAR.

Artists and organizations featured in the exhibition:

Candy Chang, Change Administration (Aurash Khawarzad), Center for Urban Pedagogy, COMMONstudio, CROP, Design 99, DSGN AGNC (Quilian Riano), Alexander Eisenschmidt with Cheng+Snyder, envelope a+d (Douglas Burnham), Experimental Station, Theaster Gates, Fritz Haeg, Hester Street Collaborative, LA Green Grounds, Latent Design, Public Media Institute (Ed Marszewski), Moving Design (Ric Valicenti and John Pobojewski), Neighborland, OpenPlans, Rockwell Group, Stamen, Street Plans Collaborative (Mike Lydon), Team Better Block, Jordan Seiler, WORKac, and many others.

About the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE):

The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) is dedicated to enriching Chicago’s artistic vitality and cultural vibrancy. This includes fostering the development of Chicago’s non-profit arts sector, independent working artists and for-profit arts businesses; providing a framework to guide the City’s future cultural and economic growth, via the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan; marketing the City’s cultural assets to a worldwide audience; and presenting high-quality, free and affordable cultural programs for residents and visitors.

About the Institute for Urban Design

Since 1979, the New York–based Institute for Urban Design has served as a central platform for debate among architects, planners, policy-makers, developers, academics, journalists, and urbanists. The Institute operates as a think tank and advocacy group, drawing on the collected experience and knowledge of its large fellowship to bring important issues into wider public debate through lectures, events, and publications.


The organizers of Spontaneous Interventions are grateful for the sponsorship of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (engineering), Better Life Technology/BLT G-Floor (graphic floor), Applied Image (environmental graphics), Avery Dennison (adhesive materials), Coloredge (banner printing), Fenner Drives (pulleys), and Gladding Braided Products (ropes).

For more information, please visit Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

Curatorial Team

Cathy Lang Ho is an independent architecture critic, editor and curator based in New York. She is a contributing editor to Architect magazine and founding editor-in-chief of The Architect’s Newspaper. She has published hundreds of articles in publications worldwide. She is the winner of the Rome Prize (2008–09), a member of the American Academy in Rome’s Society of Fellows Council (2012–15), and a board member of the Institute for Urban Design. Her company CLHoffice produces editorial and curatorial projects.

Samantha Topol is a writer, editor, and artist based in Chicago. She is currently the programmer-in-residence at threewalls in Chicago, and recently curated a four-part event series including performances, video screenings, lectures and installations. She is co-founder of Original Features, a project-driven collaboration that supports multiple forms of artistic and discursive production. Her writing has appeared in The Believer, Art Lies, The Architect’s Newspaper.

Gordon Douglas is a writer and researcher based in New York. As a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Chicago, he studies issues of local cultural identity, urban development, and people’s interactions with the built environment through “DIY urban design” contributions. His articles and photographs have appeared in Architect, GOOD, Urban Studies, Sociological Perspectives, and Streetsblog.

Additional support: Stéfan Jonot, partner of CLHoffice (advisor); Michael Sorkin, Sorkin Studio, Terreform and Institute for Urban Design (advisor); Toni Griffin, director Bond Center for the Just City at City College New York (advisor); Erik Adigard, M-A-D (advisor); Kelly Loudenberg (film); Anne Guiney; and researchers Justin Allen, Anne Quito, Kyle Ryan Riley, and Matt Shaw.

Exhibition Design

Freecell is a Brooklyn-based design and fabrication studio founded by Lauren Crahan and John Hartmann. The company’s diverse skill set, which includes design fabrication, photography and drawing, enables their search for creative and innovative solutions. They strive to create site-specific three-dimensional installations that transform and question the use and perception of space. Recent work includes custom furniture for the fashion designer Alexander Wang, interior fixtures for the West Village jewelry store Vasa and interior design of the Diesel Black Gold store in SoHo.

M-A-D is a Berkeley-based interdisciplinary communication design firm that focuses on the convergence of cultural and technological change. Founders Erik Adigard and Patricia McShane are recipients of the Chrysler Award for Innovation in Design for a body of work that ranges from corporate branding to multimedia exhibitions. They have taught at California College of the Arts, and Adigard frequently writes on design and media for industry publications, serves on juries, and lectures internationally. Adigard is the winner of the Rome Prize in Design (2012–13).

S.I. Pop-Up in Millennium Park

MAS Studio is a collaborative architecture and urban design firm directed by Iker Gil. MAS Studio takes a multidisciplinary approach to its work, inviting collaborations with architects, urban designers, researchers, graphic designers, and photographers among others, in order to provide innovative and comprehensive ideas and solutions. The studio develops its work with an emphasis in research, built work, publications and exhibitions. Gil worked with Andrew Obendorf, Julie Michiels and Andrew Clark on the design of Spontaneous Intervention’s “outdoor living room” in Millennium Park. MAS Studio’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in venues such as the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, WUHO gallery (Los Angeles) and pinkcomma gallery (Boston).

About the U.S. Representation at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs supports and manages official U.S. participation at the Venice Architecture Biennale. The selection of Spontaneous Interventions for the U.S. Pavilion in 2012 resulted from an open competition and followed the recommendation of the Federal Advisory Committee on International Exhibitions (FACIE), convened by the National Endowment for the Arts. U.S. representation at this global event ensures that the excellence, vitality, diversity, and innovation of architecture in the United States are effectively showcased abroad, and provides an opportunity to engage foreign audiences to increase mutual understanding.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Samantha Topol, Email inquiries only, please.