Celebrating Chicago's architecture and design

Last edited: 29 February 2016

Billed as the “largest international survey of contemporary architecture in North America”, the inaugural BP-supported Chicago Architecture Biennial welcomed more than half a million visitors

More than virtually any city in America, Chicago’s identity is defined by its architecture. Chicagoans take enormous pride in their buildings, museums, bridges and parks, and also in their city’s rich architectural history. BP has been part of that history for over a century. 

The Chicagoland area is home to roughly 4,000 BP employees, which makes it the company’s third-largest employee base anywhere in the world. From its technology centre in Naperville, to its downtown trading floor, to the Whiting refinery, BP supports nearly 30,000 jobs across the region, including many jobs in the heart of the city. 

BP’s sponsorship of the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial 2015 is just the latest example of its commitment to local architecture, which dates to one of its heritage companies, Standard Oil of Indiana. 

The biennial, which attracted more than 31,000 attendees during its opening weekend in October, included a number of exhibitions and educational programs featuring both established and emerging architects. It examined how advances in architectural design are addressing social, environmental, aesthetic, technological and economic issues around the world. 

The Wall Street Journal called the biennial “a pulse-taking of contemporary architecture as it could be — creative responses that suggest solutions to some of the intractable, quotidian challenges of our times, from housing the needy to harnessing baffling new technologies.” 

Part of BP’s $2.5 million donation included sponsorship of the BP Prize, awarded to the winner of the biennial’s lakefront kiosk competition, as well as a separate design challenge for Chicago-area high school students. The student competition encouraged budding architects to design a “pocket park” that embodied the biennial’s theme of “State of the Art of Architecture” and improved access to public open space for a Chicago-area neighborhood.

Overall, BP and the BP Foundation have given more than $35 million in total charitable contributions since 2006 to Chicago-area civic and cultural organizations. BP’s investment in Chicago can be seen dotting the city’s skyline and parks, including: 

Chicago Horizon

Sorry, you need Javascript enabled to view this video.

Loading video

please wait...

Watch the Chicago Horizon kiosk construction in our time-lapse video

The biennial’s BP Prize was awarded to Rhode Island-based firm Ultramoderne for the design of a new pavilion along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Ultramoderne received a $10,000 honorarium, and BP contributed an additional $75,000 towards construction of the multi-purpose structure. Titled “Chicago Horizon”, the design uses cross-laminated timber, a new carbon-negative engineered lumber product, to create an expansive canopy supported by a series of slender columns. The kiosk will house a food and beverage vendor, provide shelter, and create a new public space along the city’s lakefront. The kiosk has been installed at a prime spot just north of the city’s museum campus, leaving a lasting legacy from the biennial. 
Photo credit: Tom Harris
Video credit: Chicago Architecture Biennial

Standard Oil Building (now Aon Center)

Designed by Edward Durell Stone, the Standard Oil Building (now Aon Center) opened in 1974. When it was completed, the Standard Oil Building was the tallest in Chicago and the fourth-tallest anywhere in the world. It later became headquarters for Amoco, which merged with BP in 1998.

BP Bridge at Millennium Park

BP donated $5 million for Millennium Park’s curving stainless steel pedestrian footbridge, which was designed by award-winning architect Frank Gehry. Known as the “BP Bridge”, the walkway opened in 2004 and connects Millennium Park, one of the main venues for the biennial, with the recently opened Maggie Daley Park. The bridge’s gentle slope and unique serpentine design make it accessible to people with disabilities.  

Art Institute of Chicago

BP contributed $10 million toward the construction of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing, which houses the museum’s collections of modern European painting and sculpture, contemporary art, architecture and design, and photography. Designed by award-winning architect Renzo Piano, the Modern Wing opened in 2009 and features the BP Student Esplanade, a dedicated entrance for visiting school groups. 

The Museum of Science and Industry

BP America and the BP Foundation provided $6 million in funding for the Future Energy Chicago, a permanent interactive exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. The centrepiece of the exhibit is a state-of-the-art, multiplayer simulation game that uses real-world data to help students learn how new energy technologies can revolutionize Chicago’s infrastructure and create a more sustainable city.
Supporting the Chicago community and its rich culture is just one way BP is showing its pride in a place that the company has called home for decades. 

Related content