Wrightwood 659 in Chicago.
Photo: Jeff Goldberg / Esto

Inside Tadao Ando’s Latest Art Space in Chicago

Wrightwood 659’s ambitious program includes a reinstallation of the U.S. exhibition at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale
Tadao Ando. Photo: Hiromitsu Ogata

Pritzker Prize–winning architect Tadao Ando is known for his lyrical use of exposed concrete, evidenced in minimalist masterpieces like Japan’s Church of the Light and the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis. While he rarely does private houses, Ando designed a residence in Chicago’s Lincoln Park area for media entrepreneur Fred Eychaner in the 1990s.

While the house was under construction, Eychaner bought the 1920s apartment building next door and eventually let the tenants’ leases run out. Recently, he began working with Ando to turn that building into an exhibition space for art, architecture, and historical artifacts. Called Wrightwood 659, it opened in October with the show “Ando and Le Corbusier: Masters of Architecture,” which explored the relationship between the Japanese and Swiss modernists. Among the items on display were 106 small models of Le Corbusier buildings made by Ando’s students and a much larger model of Naoshima, the “art island” on which Ando has built several museums and a hotel.

Exterior, Wrightwood 659. Media entrepreneur Fred Eychaner’s residence, also designed by Ando, is located next door. Photo: Jeff Goldberg / Esto

Architecture buffs will find the design of Wrightwood 659 as arresting as its exhibitions: Behind the structure’s original brick-and-limestone façade, Ando created three floors of galleries set into an angled atrium beneath a dramatic slit of a skylight. “The interstitial space between the concrete galleries and brick walls connects the layers of the building and becomes a circulation zone,” says Ando. The top floor opens onto an elegant roof terrace with spectacular views in all directions. (Daniel Whittaker, who cofounded Wrightwood 659, served as the link between Ando and the construction team; Eychaner calls Whittaker the “design-purity enforcer.”)

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The floating staircase inside Wrightwood 659 beautifully contrasts with the building’s original brick, which was exposed when Tadao Ando transformed the space. Photo: Jeff Goldberg / Esto

Now Whittaker and director Lisa Cavanaugh are planning an ambitious program that includes a reinstallation of “Dimensions of Citizenship,” the U.S. exhibition at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, followed by an exhibition that will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Regardless of what’s on view, however, Ando hopes “the spirit of this architecture prompts a dialogue between the traditional and the contemporary.” At that, he is a master. 

A version of this article first appeared in print in our 2018 Winter Issue under the headline Wonder Walls. Subscribe to the magazine.

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