It should come as no surprise that visionary Jeanne Gang is the mastermind behind the architecturally-unparalleled Vista Tower. An Illinois native, the founder of Studio Gang is nationally renowned for innovative projects that reflect biodiversity and ecological restoration. Such projects include the design of the man-made island on the eastern edge of Chicago, 2014 Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership in Kalamazoo, American Museum of Natural History in New York, and Edge Effect in Milwaukee’s harbor front.
Although Gang has accomplished many feats in her time, she shows no sight of slowing down. As a visionary and trailblazer, we can expect Gang to continue leading the industry in ecological responsibility and restoration. Read on for more details on all-star designer Jeanne Gang.
The following excerpt is from an article originally published in No Parallels: Issue II.
Title: Designing Solutions: A Look into Jeanne Gang’s Approach to Architecture from Concept to Reality
Author: By Giovanna Dunmall
Illinois-born architect Jeanne Gang set up her studio in 1997 and now has a staff of 87 and offices in Chicago and New York. Designing pioneering tall buildings such as the upcoming Vista Tower for Chicago’s emerging Lakeshore East neighborhood is just one of the areas the practice works in, another is bringing back ecology, biodiversity and people to vast post-industrial swathes of cities. “Sites that have been left degraded after industry has gone and are in need of reinvention,” explains Gang, “but that have great potential because of the natural resources that are there.”
One such project is the ongoing renaissance of Northerly Island, a man-made island on the eastern edge of Chicago that was formerly an airport. “We worked with engineers and landscape designers and designed a framework plan to bring it back into use as a public space and improve access to the lakefront,” says Gang. A third of the 91-acre site has already been completed with the help of state and federal funds and it is already “a migratory bird hotspot” and a “wild overlap with nature right in the middle of the city” says the studio’s founder.
Similar issues of ecological restoration are central to a recently announced project called Edge Effect designed to overhaul Milwaukee’s harbor front. “It’s about creating places for people to engage with that environment and at the same time make the area more interesting for development,” says Gang. But it’s not only the studio’s urban landscape schemes that reflect and promote the natural world, many of its architecture projects do too.
“If you take some of the very simple concepts and apply them to design you get very useful ideas: start with what’s there, just as a bird does with its nest; what are the materials that are available nearby; is this a good location?” says Gang. The 2014 Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership in Kalamazoo, Michigan is a brilliant example of this thinking in action. Located in an area with a lot of wooded trees that are naturally resistant to rot and insects, the practice chose to replicate a traditional low-carbon building system local to the area and make the walls out of wood logs.
Even when the materials aren’t necessarily garnered from the natural world the ideas still are. Concepts of flow and water passing through canyons and ice caves are a constant reference and inspiration for the firm’s 218,000 sq ft extension to the American Museum of Natural History in New York for instance. Due to complete in 2018, this project is as much about reorganizing a chaotic campus of 25 buildings that is currently “an incredibly complex maze with a lot of dead ends and congestion” as it is about creating additional space and a Central Exhibition Hall with undulating walls, niches, arches and bridges.
Two other significant New York projects that are completing next year are Fire Rescue 2, an elite rescue operator training centre in Brooklyn where the building itself, with its holes, portals and platforms becomes the tool for the rescue workers to practice what they would do in a real life emergency, and the Solar Carve Tower along the High Line Park, a ten-storey office building with an intelligently-shaped facade. After realizing that the building envelope allowed by zoning meant shading out a big piece of the park, the practice “came up with a shape that would bring over 200 hours more daylight a year to it,” says Gang. “We used the angles of the sun to find out when and where light was needed most and created these carves on the building. It’s better for the community around the building but it creates interesting interior spaces as well.”
Whether it’s a mid-rise structure like the Solar Carve Tower, a skyscraper, a school or a museum, Studio Gang is focused on how buildings interact with the site and the people around them. “A building isn’t just about the site you are given and the boundary allowance along it,” says Gang. Which brings us full-circle back to ecology and the studio’s overarching ethos. “In ecology you are not looking at individual species, you are looking at how they get on with each other and with their environment. We bring that philosophy to architecture.”