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Beyond the Classroom

The Interior Landscape of Chicago’s Pedway

Landscape Architecture Professor David Hays is co-director of Space p11, an exciting new gallery for off-grid art, architecture, and culture located in the Pedway system of Chicago. The Pedway is a pedestrian network of tunnels and overhead bridges, commercial spaces, and transit stations in the downtown area called the Loop. It weaves through 40 blocks of the city, connecting over 50 buildings. Out of sight but within easy reach, the Pedway offers shortcuts and shelter for tens of thousands of commuters, residents, and students daily.

Most of the Pedway is one level below street level, and there are no obvious ways to get into it. When you walk into a building, there may be a stairwell that goes down to the Pedway system.

This makes the Pedway feel like a secret space, a kind of interior landscape or park. So many parks in contemporary cities are places of encounter, but they’re not spaces of mystery and exploration. The Pedway system is exactly that.

Most people think of landscape as the space that’s around us, the objective environment that surrounds individuals or buildings. Space p11 introduces people to more complex ways of thinking about landscape as a relationship between humans and nature, a relationship that is negotiated through a wide range of media. The exhibitions that are presented to the public all address the topic of landscape, but in media and formats with which people are less familiar.

The Space p11 gallery is a project of Acute Angles, Inc., a Chicago-based arts and culture non-profit. At Space p11, Acute Angles hosts ongoing Interior Landscape Residencies, short-term exhibitions, and creative practices displayed in the gallery. Artists who work in Chicago can apply for the residencies.

In September and October of 2019, the gallery hosted an exhibition by artist Ang Li called All That is Solid. Ang Li is a professor at Northeastern University and is interested in materials that are conventionally taken to landfills but that decompose over very long periods of time. For our gallery, she made 9 columns, each of them 8 feet high, about 3 feet by 3 feet square. They’re composed of materials from the building industry that would normally go straight to a landfill. She thought carefully about textures and shapes in composing these columns. They’re on rollers at the bottom, so when you come into the gallery, you can see them as a forest of white columns, but you can also move them around however you please.

In showing these materials as objects of interest that can become something else, she’s reminding of us of the ways in which we produce a lot of waste that could have some other function, some other purpose.

Over the past quarter century, the field of LA has expanded enormously as people have come to recognize its ability to transform economies, to support populations, to support individual health. As we create indoor environments, we’re always negotiating relationships with natural systems because our buildings don’t exist in isolation, just like we don’t exist in isolation.

If you are in or near Chicago, check out the gallery. It is located just below 55 E. Randolph Street and is open Monday-Friday from 4am to 7pm and Saturday from 8am to 7:30pm.