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Tadao Ando designs Chicago art space dedicated to architecture and socially engaged work

The inaugural show at Wrightwood 659 will focus on Ando and Le Corbusier

Wrightwood 659 in Chicago's Lincoln Park Photo: William Zbaron/Rogert Sharoff

The architect Tadao Ando has designed an airy new exhibition space in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighbourhood that focuses on architecture and socially engaged art. Known as Wrightwood 659 for its street address, the project was co-founded by the media publisher Fred Eychaner, who is also behind the Alphawood Foundation, a philanthropic organisation committed largely to advocacy, the arts, LGBT equality and civil rights.

Wrightwood 659 will operate as a private non-commercial art space separate from the foundation. The director is Lisa Cavanaugh, a 30-year veteran of Christie’s, where she was most recently the managing director of its Chicago office. Sandhya Jain-Patel, formerly the head of Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian art at Christie’s New York, was initially appointed to be the director. But she resigned last week because she could not relocate to Chicago and the commute from New York was "unworkable", a spokeswoman said.

Patel previously worked with Alphawood to present Ai Weiwei: Trace in Chicago in the Lincoln Park building last spring. The exhibition, featuring a monumental work of LEGO bricks arranged to depict activists, prisoners of conscience and free-speech advocates around the world, was originally commissioned by the FOR-SITE Foundation in 2014 and installed at Alcatraz, the island prison in San Francisco Bay, before travelling to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC. Among its other projects, Alphawood has helped finance the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York and the restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois.

At Wrightwood 659, Ando has transformed the 35,000-square-foot interior of a former 1920s apartment building into an elegant contemporary environment while preserving the four-story brick façade. A floor-to-ceiling glass corridor along the rear and side of the top floor allows for views over the rooftops of the historic Northside neighbourhood. Spacious entryways look out over a light-filled atrium of exposed brick, glass and concrete, and the galleries are connected by smooth concrete floors and stairs. The inaugural exhibition, Ando and Le Corbusier: Masters of Architecture, is due to open on 12 October.

Jim McDonough, the executive director of Alphawood, said the Wrightwood 659 project was proposed by the foundation’s founders—Eychaner and the architectural historian Dan Whittaker— who admire Ando’s work and seek to promote good design and socially active art without the constraints one might encounter in a typical museum environment.

The number of daily visitors will be limited. “The intention is to provide a contemplative, quiet and meaningful experience for the public to think about, and be inspired by, the shows that are being presented,” McDonough said.

This article was updated on 13 August to include Sandhya Jain-Patel's resignation, and clarify Wrightwood 659's foundation