Jeanne Gang is first architect in 11 years to win MacArthur grant


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The annual list of MacArthur Fellows is out -- and for the first time in more than a decade there is an architect among the winners. Jeanne Gang, the 47-year-old founder of Studio Gang Architects, joins 21 other honorees this year; each of them will receive a $500,000 cash prize from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation that famously comes with no strings attached.

Gang’s best-known work is undoubtedly Aqua, an 82-story residential tower in Chicago that opened in early 2010. After touring it with Gang, I wrote that ‘with its undulating concrete-and-glass skin’ Aqua ‘suggests a fresh direction for skyscraper design. Balconies on each floor extend from the tower’s concrete core, but instead of following the rectangular shape of the interior floor plan they pursue a rich variety of curves. The balconies create what Gang calls ‘an inhabited facade’ and give the building, as its name suggests, a liquid personality. The effect is particularly dramatic if you stand at the base of the tower and look up: From that angle the facade resembles the rolling surface of the ocean.’


I also noted that the tower updates ‘the scalloped concrete forms of Bertrand Goldberg’s nearby 1964 Marina City complex for the age of fluid, digitally enabled design’ and in doing so ‘suggests a changing of the guard in architecture that has as much to do with generation as gender.’

Gang and her firm have lately been pursuing a wide range of projects, including a residential complex in Hyderabad, India, and the Ford Calumet Environmental Center south of Chicago. Studio Gang is one of five firms engaged by the Museum of Modern Art to explore new prototypes for residential architecture as part of the 2012 exhibit ‘Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream.’

Gang is the first architect to win the MacArthur Foundation award since Samuel Mockbee, the founder of Auburn University’s Rural Studio, was named in 2000, less than two years before he died of leukemia. The glass artist James Carpenter, who has worked closely with architects, including with the firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill on the 7 World Trade Center skyscraper, was a 2004 honoree. Architects Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, founders of the firm now known as Diller Scofidio + Renfro, were named fellows in 1999.


MacArthur ‘genius’ grants go to cellist, architect, jazz musician

-- Christopher Hawthorne