“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”