Search results for "studio gang"

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Mayor Daley’s Chicago Legacy
The gardens of Millennium Park frame the Chicago skyline and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.
Peter Aaron / Esto

After 21 years as mayor, Richard M. Daley has left an indelible mark on Chicago’s built environment. The Architect’s Newspaper asked 11 Chicago architects to reflect on Daley’s impact on the city’s architecture, planning, and landscape, and to ponder the challenges facing the next mayor.

Brad Lynch
Brininstool, Kerwin + Lynch

The legacy: “Daley brought Chicago back, in terms of concentration on public projects and the city’s physical aspects. And he helped lose the Al Capone association.”
Next mayor’s challenge: “We need to keep up the momentum for better design, and continue the focus on infrastructure and getting better building projects.”

Carol Ross Barney
Ross Barney Architects

The legacy: “I think Daley loved the city, and though it wasn’t always clear what he wanted, it was usually the right thing. The jury is still out on housing and the airport.”
Next mayor’s challenge: “I’d like to see government opened up. Some of the discussions would be fun to have.”

Green roof on Chicago's City Hall.

New housing at the site of Cabrini Green.
A green roof atop Chicago's City Hall (top), and new housing at the site of Cabrini Green.
City Hall Photo Services Division

John Lahey
Solomon Cordwell Buenz

The legacy: “If I had to pick one thing that defines Daley’s legacy, it would be Millennium Park. It totally reoriented the city, and created something where there was nothing. Daley went out on a limb, took a risk, but it paid off.”
Next mayor’s challenge: “The real problem remains with the fiscal realities of today’s urban America. That’s what needs to be tackled.”

John Ronan
John Ronan Architects

The legacy: “Sustainability movements are common, but Chicago is different because of the top-down process. Instead of the usual grassroots beginning, Daley was the catalyst; it can be directly attributed to him.”
Next mayor’s challenge: “Daley had a vision for grand projects, ‘big thinking’ in the Burnham sense of the term. Now the expectation is that the next mayor will have a vision for the city.”

Martin Felson

The legacy: “Daley worked to try to connect architecture to the urban environment, through things like education agendas and natural systems.”
Next mayor’s challenge: “I’m interested in the reversal of the river as an issue of ecological security, linking the ecology with the economy. Resolving that issue will impact all of our qualities of life here in Chicago.”

Dirk Denison
Dirk Denison Architects

The legacy: “Mayor Daley’s greatest achievement for the City of Chicago was raising the consciousness of ‘green,’ both in terms of design strategies and the physical urban landscape.”
Next mayor’s challenge: “Daley’s successor will have to change the current view of buildings to one that focuses on the long term, specifically, how they will exist and perform over time.”

Jackie Koo
Koo and Associates

The legacy: “Daley has made a phenomenal impact on the city, particularly the Loop. He revitalized the Loop with Millennium Park.”
Next mayor’s challenge: “Where does his successor even begin? It’s just a terrible time, especially for people trying to find affordable housing.”

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

The legacy: “Mayor Daley’s legacy in terms of the built environment is substantial and impressive. His attention to the importance of landscaping in the public realm has left Chicago a much more beautiful and livable city than it was before he took office.”
Next mayor’s challenge: “In addition to the need for carbon reduction, there is a continuous need for both city center and urban neighborhood renewal, including parks, schools, residential buildings, commercial centers, and transit system stations, which should be seen as the future of higher-density sub-zones within the neighborhood structure.”

Crown Fountain at Millenium Park.Millennium Park's Crown Fountain by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa draws a crowd.
Peter Aaron / Esto

Philip Enquist
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

The legacy: “Architects designing at the scale of a city are rare. Directing growth, investment, and energy at this scale is no small task. While most American cities have never had the benefit of one such individual, Chicago has been lucky to have had two: an architect and a mayor. We are fortunate to have been influenced and directed by the future-building efforts of Daniel Burnham a century ago, and by those of Richard M. Daley during the past 20 years. The mayor energized Chicago and brought it to its highest civic level.”

Jeanne Gang
Studio Gang

The legacy: “He’s been a true advocate for new, high-quality architecture and environmentally friendly public space within the city. He has made Chicago a role model for what quality of life in a major city should be. For those of us in the architecture community, I’d say his leaving is a major loss.”

Clare Lyster

The legacy: “Leaders who recognize the agency of design in municipal planning and policy produce great cities. In his 21 years as mayor, Richard M. Daley understood how to deploy design to negotiate all the stakeholders that develop the urban environment. For example, the Lakefront, Millennium Park, and Museum Campus stand out as noteworthy examples of how design could leverage public, private, and economic interests to transform the city’s civic spaces. His opportunism in implementing these projects and his sincere interest in cultivating strong links with the city’s architectural community will be his legacy.”
Next mayor’s challenge: “Like many cities, Chicago faces multiple urban challenges: maintaining and expanding infrastructure, addressing urban sprawl, and tackling ecological issues. The next administration can build on Daley’s legacy by foregrounding design as the principal means to engage these concerns. The city has multiple young design firms with great ideas for the future of Chicago. Local architecture schools are think tanks for both practical and visionary explorations. Both the academic and professional design communities are ready to engage the public and help transform the city. Are you listening, Rahm?”

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Studio Gang Parks Shell Station at the Zoo
A yoga class takes place inside Studio Gang's new pavilion in Lincoln Park Zoo.
Courtesy Studio Gang
The pavilion glows at twilight, reflecting off the Zoo's neighbhoring pond.

After putting ripples in the Chicago skyline with its award-winning Aqua Tower in 2008, architectural firm Studio Gang added one more curve to the city this spring with a pavilion at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Part of the studio’s $6 million renovation of the Zoo’s South Pond, the pavilion is built of prefabricated wooden planks milled into parabolas and joined together at their ends, creating a loosely woven pattern that arcs from one edge of the boardwalk over to the other.

Translucent half-pods are set into the negative spaces created by the frame, giving the pavilion the feeling—fittingly, for an aquatic habitat in a zoo—of a tortoise shell. They also provide shelter from the elements, turning the pavilion into a popular space for community meetings, classes, and recreational activities like yoga.

The pavilion sits on a boardwalk encircling the four-acre pond, which Studio Gang converted from a shallow, manmade pool fed by city tap water into a natural, self-cleaning habitat that doubles as an educational exhibit. Especially at night, with floodlights illuminating it from below, the pavilion beckons pedestrians from across the pond, drawing them along the boardwalk and through its arc.

Julia Galef

Translucent pods have been set into prefabricated wooden planks.


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Developing Stories
Magellan's Lakeshore East from the air.
Okrent Associates

The New Neighborhood: Magellan Development Group

The undulating balconies of Aqua are the newest landmark on the Chicago skyline, and the building has cemented Studio Gang’s reputation as one of the city’s leading high-design firms. It has also signaled the ambitions of the project’s developer, Magellan Development Group, as one of the most innovative and design-minded in Chicago.

As impressive as Aqua’s profile in the skyline may be, it is only one piece of the Lakeshore East development, the large mixed-use area just north of Millennium Park developed entirely by Magellan, which has helped infuse downtown with residents and activity. When it is complete, Lakeshore East will have approximately 5,000 units of housing—3,000 of which have been built—along with 1,500 hotel rooms, 2.2 million square feet of commercial space, and a 6-acre park. Built on 28 acres of a former golf course, Lakeshore East is one of the largest developments within a central business district anywhere in the United States. “This site was in front of all of our eyes,” said James Loewenberg, co-CEO of Magellan. “Timing and luck are the most important things. And the timing was right for Lakeshore East.”

A 6-acre park at the heart of lakeshore east will eventually be ringed by 5,000 units of housing.
skorburg & associates


the parkhomes at aqua, designed by studio gang.
COURTESY magellan

Based on a masterplan by SOM and built around a park designed by the Office of James Burnett with Site Design Group, the project includes buildings designed by DeStefano + Partners, Solomon Cordwell Buenz, Steinberg Architects, and Studio Gang, all within walking distance of the Loop and the lakefront. Aqua is only the latest amenity in this quickly evolving neighborhood. “Aqua is a one-of-a-kind building, and it’s definitely got a lot of cachet in the architecture community,” Loewenberg said. “From the beginning, we wanted buildings by different architects with different points of view. We think variety is a really good thing, as long as we maintain high quality.”

According to Loewenberg, the build-out of Lakeshore East is on schedule, with eight of the 13 major buildings completed. Though the most recent buildings are smaller scale, such as the Studio Gang–designed townhouses known as the Parkhomes at Aqua, the market is picking up again. “There has been a dramatic turnaround in the last 60 to 90 days,” he said. A new building, likely rentals, is in the works, designed by Brininstool, Kerwin and Lynch (BKL), a firm in which Magellan is an investor. “The condo market is still fractured, but rentals have improved dramatically here,” he said. A condominium building by Arquitectonica is on hold until more financing can be secured. “It will come back,” Loewenberg said of the project.

Loewenberg believes that the location of Lakeshore East has made it a durable investment even during the downturn: Aqua is 85 percent sold, and the other buildings are performing just as well. And, the developer adds, Lakeshore East’s prospects look strong to banks. “There’s a lot of lending interest out there,” he said.

Even as the firm works to complete Lakeshore East, Magellan is looking for new opportunities in the Chicago area and beyond. Through working on a proposal for the athletes’ village for Chicago’s Olympic bid, Loewenberg formed a relationship with Thomas Kerwin, who was then working for SOM. When Kerwin decided to join David Brininstool and Brad Lynch in starting a new firm, Loewenberg sensed there was an opportunity for further collaborations. An architect by training and a principal of Loewenberg Architects—also affiliated with Magellan—Loewenberg believes the company’s relationship with BKL will allow it to pursue development opportunities abroad (Kerwin has extensive experience on large-scale projects in Asia from his time at SOM). “It’s a part of the natural evolution of things. They’ll go after a project on their own, and we’ll pursue things together when it’s appropriate,” he said.

Back at home, Magellan is working on a proposal for a grocery store, retail center, and parking garage to be built on a surface lot in the Ravenswood neighborhood. Smaller projects like these are part of Magellan’s pragmatic strategy. The company has a strong relationship with the owners of Roundy’s Supermarkets, and realized that the site, close to transit lines and a compact residential neighborhood, was ideal for a grocery tenant. The company is waiting for approval for tax increment financing funds from the city. “We’re always looking for opportunities,” he said.

Loewenberg credits the company’s success to following the market, along with a large measure of good luck. At Lakeshore East, good planning, innovative design, and an incredible central location might also have played a role. “My love has always been designing and developing highrises,” he said. “I knew that was a niche we could fill.”

CMK's 235 Van Buren, in foreground, designed by perkins + will.
Padgett & Company

a profile and detail of 235 van buren. 
padgett & company


Selling High Design: CMK Companies

With 1,977 units and $1.1 billion in construction under their belt, CMK Companies can hardly be called an emerging development firm. Founded in 1995 with a few single- and multi-family projects, the company quickly gained the confidence of lenders, allowing them to move up to larger projects. A commitment to contemporary design runs through all their work, which quickly and steadily began to attract buyers.

“Our projects have a more modern feeling, with clean lines that stand apart in the marketplace,” CMK founder and president Colin Kihnke said. “A lot of buyers can tell it’s one of our projects just looking at the building. You enter the unit and you can sense it.”

Scott Osterhaus, principal of Osterhaus McCarthy, who worked on a number of smaller and mid-scale projects for CMK in the late 1990s as well as more recently, said Kihnke was a good client from the start. “He was looking for something that was interesting and more modern than was the norm in the speculative market. He’s always been a bit of an architecture buff,” Osterhaus said. He believes Kihnke not only connected with buyers but also helped to push residential design forward in the city.

Ralph Johnson, design director of Perkins + Will in Chicago, agrees. “For a long time the city was pushing really retro stuff. That was what you needed to get approved. Colin really worked to resist that,” he said. “It’s been a breath of fresh air for Chicago. He’s done a lot to bring modern residential architecture back, and he’s put himself on the line to sell it.”

Johnson first worked with CMK on the Contemporaine, a highly sculptural, 28-unit condominium building in River North. The building went on to receive critical raves, and sold so well that CMK asked Johnson to design a much larger, moderately priced project, the recently completed 235 Van Buren. “He said he wanted to do something for more of an entry-level buyer,” Johnson said. “I thought it was a good challenge.” The 714-unit building has a glazed south facade with concrete balconies that appear to float. As Kihnke said, “Unique architecture has value.”

Aside from Johnson at Perkins + Will, CMK has worked with Brininstool and Lynch (now Brininstool, Kerwin and Lynch) on large projects including 1620 and 1720 Michigan Avenue in the South Loop, both of which are sold out, and John Ronan on the renovation of the company’s offices. Ronan has also worked on a project in the Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean that has yet to break ground.

Kihnke believes that though the market still has a lot of excess inventory, especially in condominiums, there is activity. “If your project has momentum, you can still do well,” he said, noting that 235 Van Buren has ten to 12 closings per month. For the near future, he plans to focus on smaller projects, more along the lines of those he started in the beginning. “I live and breathe real estate development,” he said. “I get as much pleasure out of developing a 50-unit building as I do a 500-unit building.”

Osterhaus added, “As an architect, you wish there were a lot more Colins out there.”

The Greenway Garage, developed by Friedman Properties and designed by HOK.
Hedrich Blessing

The Placemakers: Friedman Properties 

With its restaurants and showrooms, lovingly converted old buildings, and busy new hotels, it’s easy to forget that River North wasn’t always a nice place to live, work, or go out at night. “Fifteen years ago, this place was blighted. People thought we were crazy,” said Robert Lopatin, chief operating officer of Friedman Properties, one of the principal forces behind the area’s renaissance. “Now it’s the hottest area in the city.” The company manages more than 50 properties, many in River North, with a total of more than 4 million square feet of holdings.

Through historic preservation projects—like the conversion of Reid Murdoch Center from a warehouse into a combination of office, retail, and restaurant spaces—and new construction, Friedman has been a leader in turning the area into a vibrant, and highly sought after, mixed-use neighborhood. With many buildings converted to retail and restaurants with office space above, River North has also extended Chicago’s central business district beyond the Loop.

the Greenway garage's green roof will connect to a new 40-story residential tower next door.
hedrich blessing
“Albert Friedman has been truly innovative. He started buying up properties in River North in the ‘70s, and began creating value out of classic old buildings,” said Todd Halamka, design director of HOK Chicago, referring to the firm’s president and founder. “He has a good eye for design, and a commitment to well-crafted buildings, and he understands the importance of human, street-level scale.” HOK has worked with Friedman on a number of projects, including the recently completed Greenway Garage.

The sustainably designed garage shows the company’s commitment to adding contemporary new construction to its extensive portfolio of rehabilitated properties, as well as its continued belief in mixing uses and adding urban amenities. Built on the site of a former surface parking lot, the garage has ground-floor retail and a multi-story corkscrew wind turbine at the corner, which will generate enough electricity to power the garage and even supply a couple of electric car–charging stations. Cisterns collect rainwater, and the building will have a green roof that will be accessible to a new 40-story residential tower next door, developed by AMLI with Friedman.

According to Lopatin, vacancy rates are very low and new businesses, especially restaurants, continue to open in the neighborhood, even in the slow market. “Younger people are living in the city again,” he said. “They want the amenities close by.” With these demographic trends and the company’s long view, Friedman’s commitment to River North looks like a good investment that will continue to grow over time.

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At Home With Jeanne Gang
The undulating balconies of Aqua have become one of the most recognized and talked about additions to the Chicago skyline. Less attention has been paid to the handsome townhouses, called "Parkhomes," in the building's base. Magellan, the developers, are trying to right that balance and drum up interest amid the still sluggish downtown condo market by enlisting Studio Gang to fit out the interior of one of the units. The six 3,200 square foot Parkhomes, have three bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a two car garage, a rarity for condos in the immediate vicinity of the central business district. Gang worked with the Brazilian company Florense to furnish the apartments. Works by local artists hang on the walls (available for purchase, naturally). The units, priced from $1.6 million, face Lakeshore East Park, and have access to all of Aqua's amenities, including the 80,000 square foot roof deck.

Home Movies at Tribeca
Susan Morris sends along her recommendations for the Tribeca Film fest, which ends Sunday, including her favorite, My Queen Karo, above. For those interested in films that include architecture, a number of entries in the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival may be of perplexing interest. Striking, in particular, is the number of films where homes are the sights of hothouse mayhem. Here’s my guide to who did what to whom and, above all, where. It’s moving day in the wry Academy Award-winning short The New Tenants (directed by Joachim Back) for a bickering yet loving gay couple who move into a drab apartment in an outer borough. Unbeknownst to them, a murder has taken place there, and, one-by-one, the oddball characters who reveal the apartment’s grizzly history are the un-welcome wagon that disrupts their lives. Dream Home (directed by Pang Ho-cheung) with the tag line is “What would you do, if someone blocked your view?” takes the greedy building bubble of high-rise apartment blocks in Hong Kong to an extreme. Purportedly based on a true story, a woman whose life has been shaped by the teardowns that destroyed her childhood neighborhood and replaced it with massive high-rises (and where gangs assist the government in ejecting tenants). Her compulsive aspiration is to acquire an apartment in the building that replaced her childhood home with a view of Victoria Harbour. This desire leads to a calculated murderous rampage. The director said she’s “killing astronomical property prices….[in a] bloody protest against the property developers who continuously inflate Hong Kong’s housing market,” only to be thwarted by the subprime mortgage crisis once she acquires her flat. Even the opening title sequence is laced with blueprints in three languages. Open House (directed by Andrew Paquin) begins with a realtor touting the spatial flow of a cold, sterile house to prospective buyers. The house soon becomes a prison for the owner after a psychopathic house hunter hides in the basement during the open house event, and entraps her in the crawl space while he plays house with his girlfriend. The director wanted to explore impulses “even darker than the physical horror of home invasion.” The Disappearance of Alice Creed (directed by J Blakeson) is a DIY guide for converting an abandoned apartment into a soundproof, secure kidnapping lair. Inspiration came from David Lean’s BRIEF ENCOUNTER where lovers borrow a friend’s apartment for a tryst that in turn inspired Billy Wilder’s more cynical THE APARTMENT where a striver lends out his place for multiple flings and films in general, said the director, that are “based around one location – Repulsion, Shallow Grave, The Shining and so on. That sense of growing unease you get from The Shining really inspired me.” My pick is My Queen Karo (directed by Dorothée van den Berghe) that sensitively mines the director’s own experiences growing up in a utopian squat in 1970s Amsterdam. Parents Raven and Dalia with their 10-year old daughter Karo leave Belgium for Holland to start a commune based on shared money, shared ideals, shared sex, and a commitment to a redistribution of realty by ending property ownership. Inside the loft they commandeer, even the space is shared; it is only demarcated, at Karo’s request, by a taped-off outline on the floor delineating her “room.” The squat veers from being a shelter to theater set to fortress. In addition, there’s Please Give (directed by Nicole Holofcener) with its almost mainstream cast including Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt. Kate (Keener) and Alex (Platt) have purchased the next-door apartment in their Lower Fifth Avenue building, which is still inhabited by the crotchety, elderly Andra. While they await the moment they can enlarge their home, the couple work in their 10th Avenue store specializing in mid-century modern furniture purchased from “the children of dead people” who sell off their deceased parents’ possessions. In Every Day (directed by Richard Levine), a television writer who works at the Steiner Studios in the Brookyn Navy Yard, enjoys her lucrative recompense in a penthouse apartment atop the Hotel on Rivington. Short films of interest include Walkway (by Ken Jacobs), an expressionistic rendering of a wooden walkway that throws out the notion of terra firma; Collision of Parts (by Mark Street) a kaleidoscope of New York City and other urban streetscapes with facades set in motion while walking, running and driving; and Berlin (by Martin Laporte), comprised of B&W and color stills of the city depicting symbols of workers on building facades, transportation structures (train and metro stations), graffiti covered doorways, statuary, and spontaneous public art.
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Preservation Gang
On the heels of their much praised Aqua tower, Studio Gang is talking on a very different kind of project, the renovation and conversion of the historic Shoreland Hotel in Hyde Park into rental apartments, and retail and event spaces, the Chicago Tribune reports. The building, which was most recently used as student housing by the University of Chicago, is in rough shape. Some of the once opulent interiors are in tact, but other spaces have been gutted or badly damaged, which could offer interesting opportunities to juxtapose contemporary insertions with historic elements. The project adds adaptive reuse and historic preservation to the firm’s already diverse portfolio. If the project is successful, perhaps it will help breathe life into the firm's other major Hyde Park project, Solstice on the Park, which has been languishing on the boards.

Chicago Offices Reorganize, Expand

In January, the small, design-oriented firm Brininstool + Lynch, best known for the Racine Art Museum, announced it was going after larger-scale, international projects with a new partner and a new partnership with a developer. The firm, now called Brininstool, Kerwin & Lynch (BK&L), has brought on SOM veteran Thomas Kerwin, who has experience with a number of major international projects, including the Greenland Financial Center in Nanjing, China and the Rockwell Center in the Philippines. The firm has received investment from Magellan Properties, the developer of the Studio Gang–designed Aqua tower, and will be collaborating with Magellan as they pursue new work at home and abroad.

Meanwhile, since January Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture (AS+GG) has added two new senior staffers, and this week announced they would create a new firm, PositiveEnergy Practice, with Roger E. Frechette, a mechanical engineer also formerly of SOM, as president. PositiveEnergy grew out of the research AS+GG did to develop a “decarbonization” plan for Chicago’s Loop, part of the firm's broader interest in sustainable designs. “We started off trying to figure out what the 2030 Challenge means,” Smith told AN, referring to the emissions reduction goals being pursued by many in the building industry. “We saw how difficult it was going to be to meet those goals.” Smith thinks developing emissions reduction strategies will be an important new business opportunity.

In addition to Frechette, AS+GG has also added Peter J. Kindel, an architect, landscape architect, and planner who will lead the firm’s urban design team, and Dr. Christopher Drew, a zoologist and energy expert, who will lead the sustainability team. Dr. Drew was previously the department manager for Masdar City, the zero-carbon development under construction outside Abu Dhabi.

According to Lynch, BK&L is hiring one or two new people, but plans to remain lean. “We’re starting out small, and we’d like to be, at most, a medium-sized firm,” Lynch told AN. “It’s an opportunistic move. I think it shows that we’re taking a step forward.” BK&L recently moved into a new office space in Aqua.

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Another Close-Up for Studio Gang
Last Friday’s ribbon-cutting festivities marking the opening of Columbia College’s 35,500 square foot,  $21 million Media Production Center (MPC) in Chicago’s South Loop featured retired anchorman/documentarian/pitchman Bill Kurtis emceeing a ceremony in the building’s large soundstage that included remarks by Mayor Richard Daley and a slew of college officials and donors, all extolling the virtues of the first new building in the school’s 120 years of operation. Columbia claims to have the nation’s largest film and video school, and refers to the MPC as a “state of the art facility designed to foster cross disciplinary collaboration among students in film, television, interactive arts and media and television.” While offering heaping doses of the boastful puffery you might expect at such an event, the speakers also seemed to spend a lot of time archly addressing an imagined audience in the year 2040. The proceedings were recorded, to be placed in a time capsule that would be opened in 30 years for the school’s sesquicentennial. Maybe that’s why a number of those listed on the agenda as presenters seemed to have been cut, including architect Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang who designed the engaging new building. But you’d have to be comatose to overlook the designer’s role in making this an occasion that merited preservation for future generations. Gang says she was inspired by the aesthetics of filmmaking in conceiving the MPC design. Her approach is apparent in ways both obvious, as in the colored-panels on the exterior alluding to a standard graphic test-pattern, and subtle: the configuration of the building’s primary circulation artery as a “main street” that deliberately manipulates the viewer’s perspective as a movie camera might. “We tried to connect spaces through light, framing views in ways similar to how cinematic space is constructed,” she told AN. It’s hard to see how 2010 could get much better for Jeanne Gang. Her boldly innovative, delicately sculptural Aqua tower--completed late last year--may have had its development woes (a planned hotel operator dropped out mid-construction), but is a hugely popular success for its dynamic contribution to the skyline. Her firm’s planned renovation of Lincoln Park’s South Pond environment should be completed this summer and she says construction should begin on her long anticipated Ford Calumet Environmental Center later this year. She’s been suitably lionized in the media, as one of the New York Times T magazine’s “Nifty Fifty” people to watch, and with the journalistic equivalent of a warm hug from Paul Goldberger in a flattering New Yorker profile in January. But the modest, sincere Gang just wants you to focus on the design. She says Columbia “knew there were things important to the architecture that couldn’t be eliminated in favor of the technological functions,” which allowed for such grand gestures as the entrance lobby/gathering space, with its movie theater-style oversized stadium seating and 11 by 13 foot LED screen. It’s hard to know what audiences in 2040 will think of the recorded proceedings. It’s a likelier bet that 30 years from now, Studio Gang’s MPC design will still feel significant, even as the technology of filmmaking -- and architecture -- zooms on.
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Rough Ride on the South Side
With project's like the Gary Comer Youth Center, designed by John Ronan Architects, and the SOS Children's Villages by Studio Gang, Chicago's South Side has some of the most exciting non-profit institutional architecture in the country. Chicago Magazine takes an in-depth look at one project that has had a decidely bumpier ride, the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, once planned for Bronzeville in an Antoine Predock-designed building, now destined for West Pullman in a less ambitious piece of architecture designed by Antunovich Associates (above). The piece lays out in detail how in 2004 the project was scuttled when then Alderman Dorothy Tillman vetoed the project, saying she wanted a shopping center on the site. The project was then relocated to West Pullman, with a slightly less expensive design by Murphy/Jahn. When that design proved too expensive, the client, the Salvation Army, looked at four Chicago firms, not named in the piece, and ultimately chose Antunovich. Even with the more modest design, the project boasts a number of green amenities, including a green roof and solar panels. Ronan and Gang have shown you can get great design on a tight budget. Even if the Kroc Center won't be a destination for architecture buffs, the project will improve the quality of life for young people in the neighborhood. Construction on the center is expected to begin in the next few months.
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The undulating balconies of Studio Gang's Aqua improve views, provide sun shading, and buffer the tower from wind loading, eliminating the need for a tuned mass damper.
All images courtesy Studio Gang

One of the top selling points of an all-glass, highrise condo is views, a factor that can be seriously challenged when the highrise is surrounded by other tall buildings. In its design for Aqua—an 823-foot-high, 1.9 million-square-foot tower next to Chicago’s Lake Shore East Park—Studio Gang found an innovative solution to this familiar snag.

The firm extended the floor plates out past the building envelope, creating terraces that open up sightlines around adjacent structures to specific landmarks: Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture, Navy Pier, Lake Street, and more. Rather than plain belts ringing the volume, the architects used the terraces to create an undulating pattern up the facade.

“We first designed a landscape, and then turned it vertical, slicing the contour into 82 different slabs so that there is a transformation over the height of the tower,” said firm principal Jeanne Gang. “The main idea was to create a tall building that people can inhabit on the outside as well as inside.”

The balconies cut an interesting profile not only from afar but upon them as well.

In addition to acting as a rather effective view machine, Aqua makes for some intriguing eye candy on the skyline. When viewed from afar, the tower appears slim and rectilinear. Up close, however, the wavy forms of the terraces reveal their depth, and the topographical nature of the elevation becomes apparent. But image isn’t everything that the design delivers. The protruding floor slabs also have an effect on the building’s systems.

The structure—engineered by Magnusson Klemencic Associates—is reinforced concrete, which offers a good deal of rigidity, but at this height and with this use (the building will contain rental apartments and a hotel, as well as the condos), it was assumed that a tuned mass damper would be necessary to combat sway.

In a tall town like Chicago, the Aqua's facade helps it stand out from its skyscraping neighbors.

However, wind tunnel testing revealed that the terraces, which cantilever as much as 12 feet out from the perimeter columns, cut wind loads enough to ensure stability. “We sensed that the design would reduce the wind, but we didn’t know for sure until getting the modeling done,” said Gang. This buffering effect will also make the terraces hospitable in a city notorious for its windy days.

One unfavorable result of exposing the slabs is that there is no way to create a thermal break, and the floors become conductors that bring unwanted heat or cold to the interior. The sun shading that the terraces create mitigated this negative effect. “When you calculate it out, it ends up being pretty much even,” said Gang. “You lose heat through the winter, but you reduce your A/C throughout the mid season and summer. It’s a wash.”

The architects designed around the microclimates created by the slabs on the facade, specifying five different types of glass depending on the amount of sun each panel would receive. All of the glass is low-e coated, but the material placed behind the terraces is extremely clear, whereas the material in the portions of the facade where the slab does not protrude—areas that the architects call pools—has a very reflective high-performance coating.

The change in glass types has a visual effect, increasing the building’s sculptural depth because the non-reflective panels recede and the reflective panels pop. “We tuned the glass to its environment,” said Gang. “You can see the different shades. It makes a more organic elevation.”

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The Beursplein in Rotterdam, designed by the Jerde Partnership, won an AIA Honor Award in 1997. Where a postwar traffic artery had split downtown in two, the plan placed a pedestrian street under glass canopies, with a 30-story apartment tower and metro station to help resurrect the neighborhood.
Christian Richters

A precise definition of urban design is elusive, as it has been since the term’s first articulation over 50 years ago at a Harvard GSD conference spearheaded by José Lluis Sert. Today the term, like sustainability, is batted about by architecture firms and the media, pointing toward an interpretation that favors architects and their super-sized projects. While practitioners of the quasi-discipline are typically seen to fall somewhere between planning’s public policy and architecture’s formal concerns, the urban designer’s role in the process of development is often misunderstood and many times questioned. Urban Design for an Urban Century sets itself the task of clarifying the role of urban design in shaping urban places.

The book is the product of New York–based professor and practitioner Lance Jay Brown, David Dixon of Boston-based Goody Clancy, and the late architect and planner Oliver Gillham. The authors begin the book by acknowledging the ambiguity of the urban designer’s job, determining that a shared emphasis on “finding the right fit between people and place” predominates. To illustrate this thread, they collect all 70 winning projects of the AIA Institute Honor Awards for regional and urban design over the last ten years, commenting on these with respect to principles such as building community, advancing sustainability, expanding individual choices, enhancing public health, and making places for people.


Case studies are grouped into seven areas: regional growth, downtowns, older neighborhoods, new neighborhoods, waterfronts, the public realm, and campuses. It is clear from these divisions that one long-held purview of the urban designer, the public realm, is not the sole area of concern. Streetscapes and plazas and their accessory elements like furniture, signage, and trees are still addressed by urban designers, but so are land use, bulk, density, form, transportation, and ecology. Much of this expanded scope normally falls to planners and local jurisdictions, suggesting the urban designer’s role in giving form to public policy and private development at an early stage. Chicago’s award-winning Lakeshore East Master Plan by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) is a fitting example of urban design’s malleability. The plan is a guideline for future action by other actors, namely architects and their clients, following developed rules of land use, massing, and site coverage. Most notable among these is Studio Gang’s 80-story Aqua Tower, a design marked by undulating terraces hardly foreshadowed by SOM’s Rockefeller Center–esque imagery.

Preceding the case studies and principles are an excellent, concise history of urban morphology and the decentralization of cities; a call for recentralization, echoing Sert’s assertion for the same a half-century ago; and finally, the authors’ crack at defining urban design. To that end Brown, Dixon, and Gillham’s definition outlines three characteristics: multi-disciplinary collaboration, outreach to stakeholders, and the enhancement of economic, social, and environmental realms. These broad concerns insufficiently portray what an urban designer actually does, but a review of the case studies points to placemaking generated by buildings, particularly via their form, size, and style. But instead of falling prey to ever-popular form-based codes, the authors attempt to steer the reader away from aesthetics and toward sustainability, social equity, the health of the common realm, and other concerns.

Defining urban design is difficult primarily because the discipline has one foot planted in policy and the other rooted in physical form. The pull one way or the other depends upon the actual situation in which the urban designer works. Kevin Lynch’s assertion, quoted in the first chapter, that urban design “comes down to the management of change” points us in the right direction. Attentive to the impact of policies on a diverse public and equally to design’s role in placemaking, urban designers are able to synthesize the competing forces shaping cities today. Ideally, with an emphasis on process and change, many of the traditional concerns found here will give way to issues like questioning consumption’s role in the social life of cities, and our relationship to nature and its processes. Brown, Dixon, and Gillham are aware of the need for social and ecological balance, but their admirable book-length explication remains grounded in practice, as are the case studies that compensate in diversity for what they lack in vision.