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American Framing is a reinstallation of the exhibition presented by the U.S. Pavilion at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia (2021). This exhibition is the first time that this project, which explores the architecture of wood framing, will be seen in the United States. Since the early 19th century, wood framing has been the most common construction system in the U.S. Currently utilized in more than 90% of new home construction here, it is one of the country’s most important contributions to building practice.
American Framing was made possible by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. Department of State and the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), and co-curated by architects and professors Paul Preissner and Paul Andersen. Noted Andersen, “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 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.” Preissner has also noted that in dedicating the entire exhibition to wood framing, the U.S. presentation “brings attention to an architectural element that has been mostly overlooked by historical and contemporary discourse.”
The presentation features a monumental installation in Wrightwood 659’s four-story atrium—an abstraction of a wood-framed building through which visitors enter the exhibition. The exhibition includes scale models designed by students at the University of Illinois Chicago School of Architecture that trace the history of wood framing from its early development through various social and cultural moments in the 20th century. Structures replicated in these models include a round barn in Illinois from the early 20th century, a Levittown home, Spike’s doghouse, and one of the earliest examples of framing: St. Mary’s Catholic Church, built in 1833 in Chicago. In dialogue with the scale models are two sets of newly commissioned photographs by UIC alumnus Daniel Shea and Chris Strong that explore the culture surrounding wood framing. Interspersed throughout the installation is newly commissioned furniture produced in common lumber, including chairs, rockers, and benches, designed by UIC School of Architecture Clinical Assistant Professor Ania Jaworska, Assistant Professor Thomas Kelley, co-founder of Norman Kelley, and his design partner Carrie Norman.
American Framing is presented at Wrightwood 659 by Alphawood Exhibitions in cooperation with the University of Illinois Chicago.