On Saturday, the second Chicago Architecture Biennial opens—which, as Graham Foundation director Sarah Herda noted at its opening, makes it a real biennial. The first time around, the theme was "The State of the Art of Architecture": i.e. what's going on. This time, new directors Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee, founders of the Los Angeles-based firm Johnston Marklee, chose the theme "Make New History": i.e. what happened and what's going to.

The participants took the assignment seriously. Its centerpiece is a new Tribune Tower "competition," rebooting an idea that not only gave us the actual Tribune Tower, but famous unbuilt buildings like Adolf Loos's amusing Doric-column-as-building and Walter Gropius's still-contemporary modernism. Its newest interpreters borrow from the real Trib Tower, Loos's unbuilt masterpiece, Mies  van der Rohe's legacy, Chinese forms, a São Paulo garage tower, and more, building the future from the past.

Other installations could just as easily be in an art museum: moody abstract art made from satellite photos of Chicago roofs; a dollhouse depiction of Yves Saint Laurent's life and death; casts of pollution literally wiped from great monuments that capture the costs of the built environment.

Still others are the more practical stuff of architecture, for which two Chinese firms provide highlights: Shanghai-based Archi-Union Architects marries cutting-edge technology with traditional materials to get an aesthetic that makes a sinuous match between the contemporary and the historic; Beijing's ZAO/standardarchitecture adapts hutongs, a vernacular architecture threatened by that city's development, to preserve its form for changing times.

That, and the accompanying gallery, are just a sampling. There's a lot more to see in the next five months—and a long future to see if it makes new history.