AIA convention Chicago
Photo © Architectural Record
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on stage at the AIA Convention in his city.

Two days after announcing that Chicago will host its own architecture biennial in 2015, Mayor Rahm Emanuel opened the 2014 AIA Convention here this morning, where he called both the convention and the field of architecture essential to the future of all cities, and Chicago in particular. “In the same way that one hundred years ago Chicago was the epicenter of modern architecture, Chicago is now at the center of rethinking livable, sustainable, and beautiful cities,” Emanuel said. “Your effort is essential to that.”

He also called it fitting that the convention is being held in Chicago, a city that had long-standing and deep connections with the architectural profession. “This is a city that not only has the home of the first skyscraper, but also has three separate architecture schools and three separate architectural awards,” Emanuel said. “No other city has that deep history with architecture.”

Emanuel noted that Chicago’s efforts are now extending beyond the downtown—an area that grabs so much focus—to its neighborhoods. He highlighted two efforts: the recent conversion of a former commercial property to space for artists and lofts in the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood on the South Side, and the reconstruction of the Chicago Transit Authority’s Red Line. “Bronzeville is a place where modern American Jazz was created,” Emanuel said. “That [former commercial] building is now the home of 20 artists and lofts...the idea of re-thinking your space is essential to cities today.”

That link between artists and architecture is going deeper in Chicago, Emanuel noted. He said that the city’s reconstruction of the Red Line is an example of a necessary investment in infrastructure but there is more to it. “On Monday we announced that each station will have art by Chicago artists telling the story of the neighborhoods,” Emanuel said. “It’s now going to be a place for public art and not just public transportation.”

Going forward: “We need to make sure our neighborhoods and our downtown are thought of in a way that we want to live our lives, that at the same time pay homage to the past and think about the future,” Emanuel said. “We need to embrace its growth in a sustainable and livable way and do it in a way that is so beautiful that people from around the world want to come and experience it.”