American Architect Jeanne Gang is the founding principal of studio gang, an architecture and urbanism collective with offices in Chicago and New York. Gang’s work has been honored and exhibited widely, including at the international Venice biennale, the museum of modern art, and the art institute of Chicago.
How do you feel about the implementation of vertical gardens on tall buildings?
Of course it takes more heavy material to be able to support the plants, but I’m really interested in how birds interact with tall buildings — that would actually be a positive thing, as birds slow down toward the plantings, which is their food. You can do treatments on the windows to prevent bird strikes. In general, I think the idea of having shade and vertical gardens up there is fantastic. I would love to do something like that if we ever had a budget for it! It’s just continuing to make the vertical building more social, more green, and more habitable.
What impact do tall buildings have on the rest of the city?
One concern about tall buildings is the shade that it creates on the ground plane. A couple of our buildings are designed to carve away mass to bring more daylight to the ground. One that we are doing in New York right now along the high line is shaped based on bringing more light to the area around the building. Especially as the high line is a garden, so it needs light.
The design uses the angles of the sun to carve back parts of the building, specifically to the garden. In New York you have the stepped back skyscraper, so already buildings are stepping back to bring light to the street, but the high line is an interior block condition. So we argued to get a variance so we could carve it back on the inside of the block. We were granted that variance and the project will start construction in 2016. The whole of idea of how to make tall buildings more humane is a really important one.
Are more clients beginning to understand the importance of architecture in the public realm?
There does have to be a commitment to wanting to push the boundaries on design. For example, with the nature boardwalk, the client — the Lincoln Park zoo — realized that having a dynamic building was key to getting people interested. Most of the project was about the engineering of the pond to make it function, but you needed that beautiful pavilion to draw people in. so architecture is such a key component.
At what stage of a project do you begin this interaction?
What we found is that you cannot just go in with a blank slate. You need to have a few unfinished options, and that helps to guide the discussion. Another thing that has worked well is having a facilitator with specific questions for the groups. Then we bring in architects and sit at different tables, so there’s always a designer at each table. Instead of just me hearing the answers, everyone on my team including the engineer and the landscape architect is involved.