BUILDING STRONGER COMMUNITIES
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.