Christian Narkiewicz-Laine | Photograph by: Panayiotis Belzinitis
Christian Narkiewicz-Laine (born June 3, 1952) is an American architecture critic, journalist and curator. He is the founding president of the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design.
Christian Narkiewicz-Laine (June 3, 1952) is a Finnish/ Lithuanian/ American architect, architecture critic, journalist, painter, sculptor, writer, poet, human and civil rights activist and fierce advocate of for peace and social justice.
He is the Founding President of the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design based in Chicago, Illinois.
Early Life and Education
Christian K. Laine was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA. He is of Finnish and Lithuanian descent-also holding a triple citizenship status- and grew up in Europe and the United States while his mother Charlotte-Narkiewicz Laine, who came from one of Eastern Europe's leading aristocratic families: Jodko-Narkiewicz, Kaciuciewicz, and Radziwill, had been a social activist who made continuous efforts towards societal growth and justice. His grandmother was a student of medicine in St. Petersburg and lived in the Imperial household of Czar Nicholas II where her sister was the Imperial nurse to the czarevich. The family produced a multitude of army generals, doctors, scientists, writers, revolutionaries, and artists during the Russian Empire. At birth, Narkiewicz-Laine was registered as a citizen of Finland. Christian Narkiewicz-Laine studied architecture at the University of Strasbourg in France and later archaeology at the American School of Archaeology in Athens, Greece. In 1973, he returned to the States and studied art history at Lake Forest College, Illinois.In addition, in 1977, he enrolled at the Evanston Art Center, where he studied printing techniques, engraving, and etching.
After finishing his studies, he engaged in spreading the word on good design and to never building anything larger than a shoebox. To this end, his early career since 1977 involved being an editor, journalist, critic, consultant, teacher, curator working at various times for the American Institute of Architects, New Art Examiner, Crit magazine, Inland Architect and the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Christian Narkiewicz-Laine was the first architecture critic to be hired at the Chicago Sun-Times where he wrote a weekly column on national architecture, design, preservation and art. At that time, Bertrand Goldberg, the famous Chicago Architect wrote a letter to James Hoge, then publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times, to hire him as the newspaper’s first architecture critic. Narkiewicz-Laine agreed to the position in 1978. Goldberg later told the Chicago Tribune: “Christian is a strange combination of architectural historian, urban moralist and urban philosopher.”
At the Chicago Sun-Times, Narkiewicz-Laine stirred up criticism with controversy. He panned the new buildings by Chicago's leading modernists: Bruce Graham, Myron Goldsmith, and Walter Netsch, stating their works were rigid, brutal, and void of any humanism or context. Narkiewicz-Laine complained that the Sears Tower did not have a front door (ten years later, a front door was added). In the new Addition to the Art Institute of Chicago, Narkiewicz-Laine wrote that Walter Netsch's staircases, set a diagonal, "gave me vertigo" (the staircases were subsequently ripped out). When I.M. Pei's New National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. opened, Narkiewicz-Laine wrote an article that compared the new Washington art museum to the also recently opened Georges Pompidou in Beaubourg, Paris. Narkiewiz-Laine wrote: The French got a People's Palace; we got an airport".
In 1979, the newspaper sent the critic to a lecture by Chicago architect, Stanley Tigerman at the Graham Foundation, who presented his new building for the Anti Cruelty Society in Chicago. Tigerman turned the interior of the building into a sinister play on animal euphemism and called the new building "A Dog Killing Machine." Narkiewicz-Laine condemned the building as a monumental disaster to animal rights, as well as human rights.
In one of his last writings for the Chicago Sun-Times, "Wright House May Loose its Windows to Winds of Economy, Christian, battled to save the 1901 Frank Lloyd Wright's Ward W. Willits House in Glencoe, Illinois. His article exposed a deal between the building owner and Phyllis Lambert, director of the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, to buy all 100 plus windows by Wright, send them to Montreal, and replace the original windows with fake plastic duplicates. "This would ruin this landmark building entirely turning this great Prairie masterpiece by Wright into a pile of junk or a total work of kitsch", he wrote. The Chicago Sun-Times article blew the deal and Lambert pulled out. The building was saved from destruction.
In 1979, he also became editor of Inland Architect and took up the magazine's historical mantel which started in Chicago in 1883.
In 1981, he resigned from the newspaper. During that year he was awarded a Fellowship from The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and a Critic’s Prize by Carter H. Manny; the second such prize ever given by the 65-year old prestigious architecture Foundation. Narkiewicz-Laine received the award, left Chicago, and went to live at The American Academy in Rome, where he continued to paint and write; and for two years, he conducted a series of interviews with Europe’s leading architects: Paolo Portoghesi, Aldo Rossi, Aldo van Eyck, Ricardo Bofill, Elissa Aalto, and Mexico’s Luis Barragán.
At the urging of R. Sargent Shriver, Narkiewicz-Laine returned to Chicago in 1982 and worked for Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises. At the Merchandise Mart in Chicago and at the Kennedy family's properties in New York and Washington D.C. Narkiewicz-Laine, as director of Architecture, organized the cultural and design programs and opened a Design Center in Washington, D.C. that featured exhibitions from around the world. He also directed the Mart's annual furniture exposition, NEOCON, for seven years. He established "The Chicago Architecture Award", which was given to Leon Krier, Rob Krier, Maurice Culot, Michael Graves, Arata Isosaki, Christian de Portzamparc, Philip Johnson, Cesar Pelli, Richard Meier, Zaha Hadid and Andreas Duany, among others.
In 1984, through the Kennedy family, he collaborated with the Spanish architect, Rafael de La-Hoz, to establish and design the Union of International Architect's (UIA) Gold Metal in Paris, giving the first Medal to Egyptian architect, Hassan Fathy, and later to Reima Pietila, Fumihiko Maki, Rafael Moneo, Ricardo Legorreta Vilchis, Renzo Piano, Tadao Ando, I.M. Pei, and Moshe Safdie.
In 1987, Narkiewicz-Laine organized a large -scale exhibition for Abitare Magazine at the Galleria Antonia Jannone in Milan, honoring the new achievements of Chicago's newest skyscrapers.
In 1988, along with Greek architect Ioannis Karalias, he founded The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design in Chicago The Museum is dedicated to the art of architecture and design holding permanent relative collections.
At, first The Chicago Athenaeum was located at 333 West Wacker Drive in Chicago, then relocated to the John Hancock Building, and then to a permanent location at 6 North Michigan Avenue. At the Chicago Athenaeum, Narkiewicz-Laine massed several permanent collections of architecture and industrial design, including a Collection of Objects Designed and Manufactured in Chicago between 1900-1960; a Collection of Finnish Fabrics; a Collection of Industrial Design from Europe and the United States; a Collection of Furniture (1920–present); and a collection of architectural remnants, drawings, models, photographs, mostly of Chicago.
He also re-discovered significant designers who had become forgotten, primarily Ann Swainson, the world's first industrial designer who came from Sweden to head Montgomery Ward's Bureau of Design in Chicago from 1930-1955.
In 1994 Laine and Karalias went on to further establish the Chicago Athenaeum International Sculpture Park in Schaumburg, Illinois, a 20-acre natural Prairie park with contemporary works of art by the most prestigious artists from Finland, Norway, Israel, Poland, Germany, Japan, Iceland, and the United States.
The Chicago Athenaeum begun expanding internationally, with architecture and design exhibitions coming to Chicago from Europe, Asia and South America. Likewise, the Museum also sent exhibitions from its collections to major museums globally. In 1995, the Chicago Athenaeum sent the largest traveling exhibition on the works of Frank Lloyd Wright on a worldwide tour, opening at the Design Museum in London as its first venue and traveling to Sweden, Italy and Portugal.
Christian Narkiewicz-Laine revived the Good Design Awards which had been founded by Eero Saarinen and Charles and Ray Eames, and former MoMA curator, Edgar Kaufmann in Chicago in 1950. Among the designers and manufacturers participating annually for the best new industrial design worldwide are global companies such as Apple, MicroSoft and Hewlett Packard to BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Volkswagen and other design manufacturers and design offices from Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Scandinavia, Japan, Korea, and China. He also established the International Architecture Awards which are given annually for the best new skyscrapers, public buildings, institutions, corporate headquarters, landscape architecture, and urban planning from 2005 to the present.
Likewise, he instituted the prestigious American Architecture Awards, the United States foremost prize for architecture, which honors the best new buildings and urban planning projects designed in the United States from 1996–present.
In 1990, the Chicago Tribune named him the Ambassador of Design.
Something Rotten in Denmark
In December, 2002, Narkiewicz-Laine was indicted by the U.S. Justice Department and charged with obstruction of justice. In 1996, Narkiewicz-Laine had organized and curated Denmark Through Design, the largest exhibition ever assembled on Danish Design in the United States. During the exhibition and at a formal dinner at the Museum, given for the Danish Minister of Culture, Jytte Hilden, a female member of The Chicago Athenaeum staff was sexually assaulted by a diplomat from the Danish Consulate in Chicago. After the exhibition closed, in January, 1997, Niels Rasmussen, Deputy Trade Commissioner from the Danish Consulate in Chicago, went to American National Trust in Chicago and wired out funds from the Museum’s bank account without permission or authority from the Museum and to a private account. Narkiewicz-Laine immediately contacted the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. and filed a formal complaint for sexual assault and bank fraud. After several years of investigation, in 2002, the U.S. Justice Department indicted Narkiewicz-Laine for making a false statement. Narkiewicz-Laine was convicted of obstruction of justice in 2003 and was sentenced, despite vigorous protests from the world’s architecture and museum community and with no previous criminal record, to three months in federal prison at Oxford, Wisconsin.
At Oxford Federal Prison, Narkiewicz-Laine saw first hand the gross injustice and abuse of America’s justicial system. He called it: a “Gulag” and an out-of-control machine that devoured everything its path to self-sustain itself––including the innocent. The first night in prison, he observed a continuous stream of Federal Express and UPS trucks coming and going, day and night. The next day, he understood Oxford was a work camp, like Nazi Germany, where inmates, predominately desperate and poor Black inmates, manufactured missile harnesses at 40 cents an hour for the Iraq War, which had just started. Those modest earnings were saved by inmates and sent home to help feed and educate their children. He observed that the majority of the inmates at Oxford were there for convictions of “conspiracy,” meaning a witness testified as to their "guilt." Boxes of food for the prison were stamped: “Not Fit for Human Consumption.” As a protest to this Nazi-styled work camp and as a protest against the War in Iraq, Narkiewicz-Laine converted to Islam much to the outrage of prison authorities and irate White inmates. “I prayed and fasted for Ramadan with my Black Moslem brothers. Every Islamic prisoner was under a magnifying glass after 9/11, including myself.”
While at Oxford Prison, Narkiewicz-Laine volunteered his time to the Lion’s Club writing optometric prescriptions for glasses donated to Third World countries. From prison, he organized the book, American Poets Against the War, an anthology of poems by over 100 of America’s leading poets as a protest against George Bush and the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. All his writings, including a journal from prison, one-day mysteriously "disappeared."
At Oxford, he earned 40 cents an hour teaching uneducated inmates to prepare for their General Educational Development Test (GED) in order to earn a High School diploma. He later donated those prison "earnings" to the Greek Communist Party (KKE).
American Poets Against the War was released in 2007 with contributions by Canadian singer and painter, Joni Mitchell, and over 100 American poets including: Jorie Graham, Marvin Bell, Robert Bly, Robert Creely, Hayden Carruth, Alice Friman, Rita Dove, Robert Hass, Milton Glaser, Donald Hall, Tony Hoagland, John Hollander, Gigi Marks, Galway Kinnell, Yusef Komunyakaa, William Tremblay, Robert Wigley, Bruce Bond, Coleman Banks, Alice Fulton, Joy Katz, Rik Nelson, Hugh Ogden, Franco Pagnucci, Nin Andrews, and Philip Levine. While in Oxford Prison, his third book of poetry, Greenland, was published in 2003.
An ongoing and pending lawsuit has been filed against the Royal Danish Foreign Ministry in Copenhagen and The European Court for Human Rights in Strasburg to clear Narkiewicz-Laine of any wrong doing.
• In 2005, he joins the Greek Communist Party (KKE).
• In 2006, Baltic Hours is republished in a Lithuanian/English version (Baltiškos Valandos) by Baltos Lankos in Vilnius, Lithuania.
• In 2006, he institutes The International Architecture Awards, which has awarded hundreds of architecture firms from over 40 countries and remains the most distinguished prize for global architecture.
• In 2007, Narkiewicz-Laine, under the auspices of the Embassy of Finland in Lithuania, mounts an exhibition of his latest work entitled: Babylon at ARKA Gallery in Vilnius, Lithuania. The centerpiece is a large-scale installation of exotic perfumes contained in crystal containers, video, and large-scale light boxes filled by pixilated butterflies.
• In 2008, The Chicago Athenaeum joins with The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies. The collaboration adds offices in Dublin, Ireland and Athens, Greece, and The Chicago Athenaeum functions as a total international institution with programs across the globe, including participation in the Buenos Aires Architecture Biennial, The São Paolo Architecture Biennial, and the Istanbul Design Biennial.
• In 2010, he institutes The European Prize for Architecture with the first award given in Madrid to the Danish Architect, Bjarke Ingels (2010), Graft Architects in Buenos Aires (2011), TYIN Architects in Istanbul (2012), Marco Casagrande in Buenos Aires (2013), Alessandro Mendini in Milan (2014), Santiago Calatrava (2015), LAVA-Laboratory for Visionary Architecture (2016), Manuelle Gautrand (2017, Sergei Tchoban (2018), and Henning Larsen Architects (2019).
• In 2010, his studio in Galena, Illinois was vandalized and thousands of works of art were destroyed, including most of his works from his Neo-Expressionist period. When the local police refused to prosecute those responsible, Narkiewicz-Laine files the largest Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) lawsuit in U.S. history to defend his life's work and his integrity as an artist.
• In 2013, he publishes his first large-scale book on his recent art, [Praxis], with an introduction by the Italian architect, Alessandro Mendini.
• In 2013, he is nominated for the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent by the Human Rights Foundation in New York.
• In 2013, Narkewicz-Laine wins second place in the Dubuque Art Biennial, organized by the Dubuque Museum of Art. His winning entry, a video, Erschüttert (Shattered) is shown, as well as Mini Dictator, a portrait of the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong un.
• In 2013, he is honored as a Finnish Artist at Finlandia University, Hancock, Michigan with an exhibition: Parables of the Palace, based on the poem by Luis Borges, which features smoke installations, glass, video, painting, and sculpture.
• In 2013, he is nominated for the Petrarca-Preises for Contemporary European Literature by the Hubert Burda Foundation in Munich, Germany.
• In 2014, he presents: The Emperor’s Fleet is Burning, a photo documentation of an installation on the Mississippi River in 2013. The exhibition is presented under the auspices of the Embassy of Finland in Lithuania at the Lithuanian Association of Artists’ ARKA Gallery in Vilnius.
• In 2014, his fourth book of poetry, Rings Around Saturn, is published, and he is heralded as one of the most influential contemporary Scandinavian poets today at the Vilnius Book Fair. The book is nominated for a 2015 Pulitzer Prize.
• In 2014, he is invited by the Lithuanian National Museum to participate in the Quadrennial 14 at the newly restored 16th-Century Artillery Bastion of Vilnius Defensive Wall in Vilnius, Lithuania.
• In 2016, he published The Chronicles and Memoirs of Carlo Gaetano Samuele Mazzuchelli (Samuel Charles Mazzuchelli): Architect, Missionary, Mystic, and Saint from the Mississippi River Valley.
• In 2016, Narkiewicz-Laine is knighted by the Union of Lithuanian Nobility for his contributions to Lithuanian art and literature.
• In 2017, he was elected into the The Lithuanian Artists' Association ( Lietuvos dailininkų sąjunga.
• In 2017, he institutes the American Prize for Design with the first prize given to Gorden Wagener, Chief Designer at Mercedez-Benz and given subsequently to Sir Norman Foster (2018), Falvio Manzoni, Senior Vice President, Ferarri Design (2019), and Karim Rashid (2020).
• In 2019, he published Landmark Galena: Architecture and the Historic City and the Galena Guide, which was originally written by Nelson Algren in 1936. He also resurrects the lost poetic works of America’s first poet, James Gates Percival, publishing Gate’s first book, Prometheus: A Poem and Clio I, II, III.
• In 2020, he published Ancient Pottery of the Mississippi River Valley and Galena, Illinois and its Lead Mines for Metropolitan Arts Press Ltd.
• In 2020, he published Dreams of the Shipwrecked Sailor, Metropolitan Arts Press, (2020) (NEW)
In 2014, the Lithuanian newspaper, Bernardinai wrote: “Christian Narkiewicz-Laine is considered one of the most influential Scandinavian poets in recent decades.”
In 2015, London’s Sunday Times called him one of America’s prominent artists.
He is an active artist not only in the area of architecture and design but also in poetry, sculpture, literature and painting with numerous exhibitions, publications and artwork. In 1980, he studied and worked at the American Academy in Rome and exhibited his works in France, Italy, and the United States throughout the 1980s. In the 1990s, his early Neo-Expressionist works in a style reminiscent of Anselm Kiefer and inspired by the writings of the Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges, and the Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, are later exhibited at the Buenos Aires International Biennial, Warsaw History Museum, Budapest Mücsarnok Museum, Galeri Jaroslava Fragnera in Prague, Göteborg Konstmuseum, Thessaloniki Municipal Museum, São Paolo Biennale, and Bückeburg Palace, Schaumburg-Lippe, Germany. Works from this period are collected by museums in the United States and Europe. In 2000, the artist moves his studio from Chicago to the historic 19th-Century City of Galena, Illinois where he is influenced and inspired as a landscape painter by the Driftless Area of the Upper Mississippi River Valley. In 2002, the artist mounts a large retrospective of his deeply metaphysical and spiritual works at the Cultural Center of the Catholic Church, Naxos Castle, Naxos, Greece. In 2007, the Dubuque Museum of Art selects and exhibits two, pivotal New Symbolist works, “Someone Heard Something in the Forest” and one of the artist’s darker pallet paintings of the Mississippi River, for the Dubuque Biennial.
According to Finlandia University, “Narkiewicz-Laine is one of Finland’s leading conceptual artists and a social and political activist, working in the United States and Europe. His work is often openly critical of the American government’s stance on democracy and human rights, voicing his dissent about war, guns, violence, and the death penalty.”
“As an artist and poet, his work is celebrated for its lyricism and stark poetry that transcends the often-commonplace subjects and materials that the artist uses to create his pieces. Although there is a consistency of theme and a common emotional thread to his art, the media that he employs are remarkably varied in scale and substance, from photography, drawings and tracings to presentations and installations of sound, texts, new materials, and ready-made or found objects.”
Indicative poetry work include: Distant Fires with an introduction written by Italy’s preeminent design critic and journalist for La Repubblica, Claudia Donà. Inspiration: Nature and the Poet (The Collected Poems of the Chicago architect, Louis H. Sullivan, Baltic Hours: A collection of poems. Mohammad Yusuf, the Art, Architecture and Literary Critic for the United Arab Emirates' The Gulf Today compared the poetry of Narkiewicz-Laine to the epic Swedish Gothicismus movement and wrote: "The image of a lonely traveller reduced to want yet carrying on with life, much like an [Roald] Amundsen or [Robert Falcon] Scott, is heroic."
Indicative bibliography includes: Distant Fires, with an introduction written by Italy’s preeminent design critic and journalist for La Repubblica, Claudia Donà. Inspiration: Nature and the Poet (The Collected Poems of the Chicago architect, Louis H. Sullivan Baltic Hours: A collection of poems Greenland Baltiskow Valandos, Baltos Lankos American Poets against the War, Metropolitan Arts Press,2009 Mississippi River: In Four Seasons, Metropolitan Arts Press, 2010 Bjarke Ingels: Danish Architect Rings around Saturn, Metropolitan Arts Press, 2014 The Architecture of Necessity, Metropolitan Arts Press, 2014
• Illinois Council, American Institute of Architects, Chicago, Illinois, 1977-1979
• American Institute of Architects, Washington, D.C. 1979-1981
• Inland Architect, 1978-1981
• The Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises, New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., 1983-1988
• Metropolitan Arts Review, 1985-1989
• The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design, 1988–present
• The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies in Dublin Ireland and Athens, Greece, 2008–present
Poetry and Prose
Narkiewicz-Laine has published a number of works of poetry and prose, including:
• Distant Fires, Metropolitan Arts Press, (1997)
• Inspiration: Nature and the Poet (The Collected Poems of the Chicago architect, Louis H. Sullivan) (1999)
• Baltic Hours: A collection of poems, Metropolitan Arts Press, (1999)
• Greenland, Metropolitan Arts Press, (2003)
• Baltiskow Valandos (Baltic Hours), Baltos Lankos (2007)
• American Poets against the War, Metropolitan Arts Press, (2009)
• Mississippi River: In Four Seasons, Metropolitan Arts Press, (2010)
• Bjarke Ingels: Danish Architect, Metropolitan Arts Press, (2010) (Delete)
• Rings around Saturn, Metropolitan Arts Press, (2014)
• Dreams of the Shipwrecked Sailor, Metropolitan Arts Press, (2020) (NEW)
Honors, Achievements, and Awards
• Fellowship and Critic's Prize, The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, 1980
• Chicago's 40 under 40 Achievers by Crain's Chicago Business, 1191
• The Goldsmith Award by the Industrial Designers Society of America, 1993
• The Humanitarian Prize by the David K. Hardin Generativity Trust, 1997
• Nominated for Pulitzer Prize for "Rings Around Saturn,” 2014.
• "Our Cities, Our Rights," XII BA 12 Bienial Internacional de Arquitectura de Buenos Aires, October 9, 2011
• "Architecture in Crisis", XIV BA 13 Bienial Internacional de Arquitecture de Buenos Aires, September 26, 2013
• "The Making of Good Design", Hyundai Motor Company, Seoul, South Korea, July, 2012
• "What is Good Design?", Hyundai Motor Company, Los Angeles, California, USA, September, 2014
• "In Solidarity with the Demand for Freedom of Speech and Human Rights", The Chamber of Architects of Turkey, Istanbul, Turkey, September, 2014
The Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design
Christian Narkiewicz-Laine personal website
The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies
Metropolitan Arts Press