Beyond Buildings


Ganging up on Lexington: Jeanne Gang Misreads Horse Country

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Jeanne Gang, center, shows a model of her design for CentrePointe to developer Dudley Webb, right, and structural engineer Ron Klemencic. Courtesy: Studio Gang, via Architect's Newspaper.

Sometimes architects are their own worst enemies, and their worst weapons of self-inflicted pain are their words. The latest suicide-by-lingo victim has to be Chicago-based architect Jeanne Gang. In describing Centrepointe (OK, developers are just as bad, in another way, with language), her new skyscraper project for Lexington, Ky., she claimed, according to Architect's Newspaper, that “Studio Gang studied the topography of Lexington’s equine landscape including the sinuous patterns created by fences around horse farms. Initial concept studies showed a cellular network based on these farms informing the site’s layout.”


Courtesy: Studio Gang, via Architect's Newspaper.


Give me a break. What she designed is a bundle of tubes that together form a residential high-rise whose pieces have different heights. That is it, and it looks like a reasonable proposal, even if you add in the trendily skewed eight-story office block it seems she plunked down next to the tower to cram in salable office space. Gang and her gang claim that the bundles are designed to maximize airflow and sunlight, so that the building will not be just another isolated energy-eater. That part I am willing to buy, though this stand-alone Centrepointe does not strike me as a poster child for energy efficiency.


Still, the design would be fine with me if Gang had not make such a strange claim for the project’s genesis. OK, I have to admit a bit of bias. As a visiting professor at the University of Kentucky who for the last year has zoomed by downtown every week on my way to class, I will miss the open field in the middle of downtown that is the development’s site. Ever since a previous development proposal for the site failed, it has been a reminder of the nature of what human beings have done with Lexington’s surroundings. The full block is a green field, surrounded by a fence. The only thing that is missing is a barn and a couple of horses showing off their sleekness as they pretend to graze on that good bluegrass.


I can see absolutely no connection between the proposed building and the landscape, which Gang seems to have studied from Google aerial views. The landscape is not “cellular,” it is undulating, expansive, and, where the picket fences divide it, consists of fields, not cells. Even if it did look like slices of the body seen under a microscope once you abstract it from God’s eye, as Gang did, that should not lead you to think that what is true at one scale (cells) is so at a completely different one (bodies). Our bodies are made of cells, but I cannot and do not want to see what constitutes them.


Forgive me for being harsh, because I do admire much of Ms. Gang’s work, and again, think this design has potential. I insist, however, that we as a discipline must learn to think and talk about the relationship between site in particular, and landscape in general, in more rigorous and fundamental ways. I am afraid that Gang’s design will be, for all its sophistication, as alien to its setting as the horrid midrise structures from the 1980s and 1990s that surround the site, and I am afraid her method of analysis might be partially to blame.



Comments (1 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 10:11 AM Monday, March 05, 2012

    Webb Companies have yet to find $250MIL to finance a project which has an ROI at fifty years. Why would anyone dump $250MIL they wil never see again?

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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.