BUILD­ING STRONGER COM­MU­NI­TIES

Fast Company - - Innovation By Design - —Kelsey Camp­bell-dol­laghan

On a re­cent sum­mer day in Chicago, the rooftop of ar­chi­tect Jeanne Gang’s Art Deco of­fices feels like a park. Nick­named Sky Is­land, the out­door space in­cludes an eighth of an acre of bio­di­verse na­tive prairie grasses and wild­flow­ers that sup­ports birds, but­ter­flies, and sev­eral bee­hives. Gang’s work is fo­cused on re­silience—not just in na­ture, but in peo­ple. “Ecol­ogy is the study of re­la­tion­ships be­tween all liv­ing things and their en­vi­ron­ment,” she says. “And that’s ex­actly what ar­chi­tec­ture does, too.” Gang, a 2011 Macarthur “ge­nius” and a lead­ing ar­chi­tect of her gen­er­a­tion, is cur­rently ad­dress­ing some of the big­gest civic-im­pact chal­lenges fac­ing cities to­day. In ad­di­tion to de­vel­op­ing in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions to aban­doned or ne­glected pub­lic spa­ces (Stu­dio Gang’s water­front and school re­use projects in Mem­phis are also In­no­va­tion by De­sign fi­nal­ists this year), she’s en­gag­ing in the thorny is­sue of po­lice re­form with a pi­lot ini­tia­tive called Po­lis Sta­tion. In the Chicago neigh­bor­hood of North Lawn­dale, Stu­dio Gang fa­cil­i­tated con­ver­sa­tions be­tween res­i­dents and po­lice of­fi­cers that led to the idea of re­ori­ent­ing the po­lice sta­tion it­self to be­come a site of so­cial con­nec­tion for the com­mu­nity, to build bet­ter re­la­tions be­tween the po­lice and neigh­bors. Stu­dio Gang built a bas­ket­ball half-court on an un­der­uti­lized sec­tion of the po­lice park­ing lot that has since be­come so pop­u­lar as a gath­er­ing spot for safe play that the firm is now work­ing to ex­pand the site into a full court and park. It’s the first phase of a plan that in­cludes pub­lic spa­ces for ed­u­ca­tion and en­trepreneur­ship. Gang en­vi­sioned the pro­ject as an open-source idea for oth­ers. “Just run with it for your com­mu­nity,” she says.

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