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Architecture Beyond the A-List

Three exhibits showcase Chicago’s architectural and cultural riches outside of downtown.
Pride Cleaners (1959), at E. 79th St. and St. Lawrence Ave., designed by Gerald Siegwart
Pride Cleaners (1959), at E. 79th St. and St. Lawrence Ave., designed by Gerald SiegwartLee Bey

Away from the main exhibit of the Chicago Architecture Biennial—the country’s biggest architecture festival, on show through January—there are a half-dozen smaller “anchor” shows, hosted by neighborhood arts organizations far from downtown. These reveal a different side to Chicago’s architectural legacy, famed for the White City of 1893, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the rational Modernism of Mies van der Rohe. In a segregated city, these exhibits make the case that other neighborhoods and traditions matter, and ask critical questions about cultural ownership in the midst of market-abetted change.

Chicago: a Southern Exposure is the most direct about angling for a new swath of architecture to be added to Chicago’s A-list. Made up of photographer (and native South Sider) Lee Bey’s photographs of the South Side, the small exhibition at The DuSable Museum of African American History showcases this part of the city’s rich architectural diversity. The sawtooth façade of Eero Saarinen‘s D’Angelo Law Library shines with crystalline perfection, and the sloped triangular roof of Pride Cleaners makes for a ready-made neighborhood icon.