5/13/2017 12:45:00 PM Jeanne Gang opens up about her architecture
ROCKFORD, Ill. (AP) — Jeanne Gang caught the architecture bug as a child. Her father was the Boone County engineer and family vacations were long road trips that crisscrossed the country, with countless stops along the way “to see every bridge there was.”
The 1982 Belvidere High School graduate, among the world’s most esteemed architects, came home April 18 to discuss her art with a crowd of more than 300 people at Giovanni’s Restaurant & Convention Center in Rockford.
The urban parks, skyscrapers and public buildings that she and her firm, Studio Gang, have designed throughout the Americas and Europe are all case studies in how to connect people to each other and their environments.
“This concept of ecology — the idea of building relationships between each other and our environment — that’s what really interests me,” said Gang, a McArthur Fellow who was named the 2016 Architect of the Year by the Architectural Review.
Gang was the architect of the 82-story Aqua Tower in Chicago’s Lakeshore East neighborhood. Unlike most high-rises’ rectangular, cantilevered balconies, Gang’s design incorporates curvy platforms rooted to the building foundation.
From a distance, the Aqua Tower’s balconies mimic the undulating waves of Lake Michigan, which they overlook. A closer look reveals the balconies ebb and flow over one another, allowing for the type of outdoor social interaction that’s impossible in a traditional apartment tower.
A “Polis Station” proposal for police stations across the country features a barber shop, a cafe and a community room for public meetings — amenities intended to capitalize on the principles of community-oriented policing and draw tighter bonds between police stations and neighborhoods that surround them. The design was partially implemented in a police station featuring an outdoor half basketball court in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. The tri-axial shape of the Arcus Center for Social Justice at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan, uses transparent facades to stitch it to the neighborhood, grove and college campus that surround it.
Gang turned Mike Webb’s dream of a covered outdoor theater at Rock Valley College into reality in 2003. The hexagonal-dome, retractable canopy roof on the Bengt Sjostrom Starlight Theatre allows theatergoers to gaze at the stars. It’s an example of design in motion or “kinetic architecture.” Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin once described the theater roof as opening “like the petals of a flower.”
Beloit College has hired Gang Studio to refashion an old coal-fired electrical power plant tucked between its campus and the Rock River into a 120,000-square-foot, eco-friendly education and recreation center. The envelope of “40 Tenth Avenue,” an office building that Studio Gang is designing in Manhattan, gives the impression of being sculpted by the sun. Its faceted, gem-like facade optimizes sunlight, fresh air and park and river views.
“I love the way she designs buildings so that they fit within their environment, so that there’s a flow from one building to the next,” said Tom McHugh, a self-employed architect in Madison, Wisconsin, who came to Rockford to hear Gang speak. “It’s like rooms within a house — how one room flows to the next instead of having all these separate, closed-off spaces. That’s exactly what she does, but on a bigger scale.”
After her presentation, Gang said she’s appreciative of the historic buildings that Rockford has preserved in recent years, including the Coronado Performing Arts Center and the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Laurent House. The city also is teeming with old factories that are ripe for re-use, she said, and vibrant spaces can be fashioned from the marriage of old and new architecture.
“The most successful places I’ve visited are cities that have kept their historic buildings and then, without trying to replicate them, have done something new and fresh along with it.”