Chicago River
Courtesy of Studio Gang With her plan to restore the Chicago River to its initial state, Jeanne Gang wants the city to embrace its ecology.

Jeanne Gang, FAIA, the MacArthur Fellow and co-founder of Studio Gang Architects, doesn’t have a signature style. She has an approach.

The architect, widely known for the undulating 82-story Aqua Tower in Chicago that deftly rewrites the skyscraper template, employs a sense of movement throughout her work. It’s a sort of structural expressionism that’s undercut with understanding of the particular context of each project. That focus on context is what sets Gang apart; she effectively marries the grand with the granular, recognizing that for architecture to be successful it has be rooted in all of the competing and overlapping social and environmental realities that compose a singular site. This systems-based approach has many applications: Her firm’s entry into the Chicago Architecture Biennial, Polis Station, re-examines the proper function of the contemporary police station by redefining— through design—its community-oriented role, placing a basketball court at the heart of the new police-public complex. Polis Station carries echoes of Reverse Effect, Gang’s 2011 book (that she published through her firm), which focused on unreversing the Chicago River, in taking a holistic approach to an urban ill.

Chicago River
Courtesy of Studio Gang The rusty past of the Chicago Area Waterway System, where swamps and greenery lie buried under industry.

At its core, Reverse Effect is a plan for dealing with the infiltration of invasive species such as Asian carp into the water system that extends from the Great Lakes down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. The book proposes the erection of a barrier located near a toxic site on the Chicago River known as Bubbly Creek to restore the natural watersheds of the Great Lakes Basin and the Mississippi River. The watersheds were famously separated in a marvel of late-19th and early-20th century engineering that reversed the natural flow of the Chicago River in order to divert waste away from Lake Michigan, the city’s drinking supply, farther downriver toward St. Louis.

Beyond offering designs to mitigate the threat of invasive species from reaching Lake Michigan, the book also includes plans for the introduction of wetlands on the South Branch of the Chicago River to recharge the lake. It also proposes designs for the redevelopment of fallow industrial land given new purpose by its waterfront location.

“The Chicago River runs right through so many of our city’s neighborhoods,” Gang says. “From a neighborhood development perspective, it makes a lot of sense to give it some love.”

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