The Chicago-based architecture firm, Studio Gang, is quickly gaining worldwide renown. It has been recognized as a growingly preeminent architectural presence in its hometown, as well as other cities across the world. The Architectural Review named the studio’s founder and Principal Jeanne Gang as Architect of the Year for their 2016 Women in Architecture Awards. They cited her “excellence in design” and “commitment to working both sustainably and democratically within local communities” as distinguishing factors for winning the prestigious award. With this upward trajectory, the studio is quickly becoming a top firm influencing the face of Chicago’s architecture. This raises important questions about preserving styles that are iconic to the city: to make our buildings echo the past, or to look ahead?
Chicago is renowned as a city for its diverse and accomplished architectural style and history. With such iconic influences as Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe, any architectural firm has a lofty task in determining the right move in developing the city. WBEZ hosted a panel discussion in an attempt to address this challenge. In this discussion, the panelists seemed to agree that “being inspired is appropriate.” How that inspiration takes shape in the final product, however, can be variable. With over twenty structures in Chicago and more underway, Studio Gang is in a special position to make a statement about how contemporary architecture speaks to the past.
Studio Gang sees a few important considerations in updating the past. These points extend past aesthetic choices and building functionality towards improving user experience. The studio believes that tall buildings have the potential to be beautifully iconic, but also to isolate their residents from one another. To combat this, they suggest specific structural improvements, such as more outdoor social spaces and protected pathways to improve the ease of being a pedestrian. Another idea is that new buildings should maximize natural light in a way that brings the most sunlight to their social indoor and outdoor spaces. All of these design tenets, laid out in detail in Jeanne Gang’s Three Points for the Residential High-Rise: Designing for Social Connectivity, open the flow of social connectivity in residential high rises. This addresses what Jeanne Gang sees to be a classic issue with imposing towers: they shut residents off from each other.
Aesthetically, Studio Gang looks to innovate and challenge preconceptions of locally utilized building styles. One such project that challenges the conventional is City Hyde Park, a residential high-rise currently nearing completion in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. The building features unique unit layouts that provide ample balcony space and views of the city’s skyline, preserving natural light and generating social space. Another project, the University of Chicago Campus North Residence Hall, creates both a gateway and a gathering space between residential Hyde Park and the University of Chicago campus. The residential commons will have an open courtyard that can be used as a gathering spot and a walkway to leave and enter campus. The two buildings use their architecture to connect its inhabitants to each other and to the neighborhood. Each building is mixed-use, including commercial and residential activity, to maximize social connectivity and functionality.
The exteriors, on the other hand, do not connect visually to the facades of other Hyde Park buildings. At least, not in a direct reference or imitation. Gang herself has said that in her planning process, she finds her best ideas when concept is prioritized over form. Nonetheless, Studio Gang’s work still has a graceful, geometric beauty. And references to local architecture do exist, albeit subtly. City Hyde Park, for example, incorporates generous south-facing balconies, echoing the south-facing sunrooms of old Hyde Park architecture.
How can today’s architecture have a dialogue with the past, in form or in function? Is there an example of a building in your area that speaks to the past? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
Credits: Images by Hannah Flynn. Data linked to sources.