Tag Archives: Studio Gang

Wanda Vista renderings revealed

Photos via Studio Gang
Photos via Studio Gang

Last night, Chicago starchitect firm Studio Gang Architects revealed the new renderings for the Wanda Vista — a 93-story complex to feature 405 luxury condominiums and 169 hotel rooms in the Lakeshore East development right on Lake Michigan. The Wanda would top out at 1,144 feet, making it the third tallest building in Chicago.

View the four new images in the gallery above, with the Wanda Vista hoping to transform the Chicago skyline by 2019.

I am always intrigued by the architect’s inspiration, and at the reveal event last night, principal Jeanne Gang said her latest project is inspired by the frustum shape seen in ice cubes or Toblerone chocolate, via DNAinfo. The article continues:

Together, the three frustums will create eight corners at street level, but the tallest part of the building will be the skinniest among its super tall peers in Chicago. Gang said the thinness of the tower will enhance exposure to natural light and cast less shade below. 

“Tall buildings, oftentimes, they’re just a reflecting box and singular,” Gang said. “Here, we’re trying to work with texture at various scales so that from a human standpoint, you can see this variation.”

Moreover, Gang said Monday the design is meant to mimic the reflection of light off Lake Michigan, via ArchPaper. This sparked the light bulb for me even more, imagining the wonderful, cinematic relationship of the Wanda near the waters of Lake Michigan itself.

It’s important to note that the project, though expected to be completed by 2019, still a number of city approvals like a zoning change. Pending approval, Magellan hopes to start construction next year with a 3+ year estimated timetable of completion.

Wanda Vista 8 (c) Studio Gang Architects

Wanda Vista 10 (c) Studio Gang Architects

Many times projects don’t make it beyond computer screens, but irregardless in this case, I admire Gang’s design for the Wanda and how it would incorporate into the Chicago skyline as a whole. I believe it would be a beautiful addition and ultimately bring other benefits aside from aesthetic. Early reports say the Wanda would create 420 permanent jobs and generate $19 million in new real estate tax revenue for the city. Plus, the tower would connect to the city’s underground pedway system, and Upper Wacker Drive would run through the bottom of Wanda, connecting to Waterside Drive and the rest of Lakeshore East, again via DNAinfo.

Let’s hope this clears all the hurdles for construction!

In the meantime, for more of my commentary and coverage on Jeanne Gang’s keynote speech at the 2014 AIA Convention, click here (see: Purpose is the process.)

For more info on the Wanda, see Studio Gang’s website here.

Wanda Vista 9 (c) Studio Gang Architects


Lucas Museum designs revealed

As beautiful as Chicago is, emphasis on beautiful, one natural landform the city is missing is a mountain. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a mountain overlooking the skyline?

Well, we’re about to get our first mountain… sort of.

MAD Architects revealed the first look at the designs for the Lucas Museum, set to be the newest addition to Chicago’s Museum Campus on the lakefront. MAD aimed to be “futuristic but at the same time to be natural” with their design being a natural fit with its namesake — George Lucas, famed creator of Star Wars.

I think they succeeded as you can simply tell from the renderings above. The white, curvacious “mountain” not only stands out on its own, but also amongst the other museums along Lake Michigan. Its close proximity to Soldier Field actually creates a cool transition from the older, Ionic columns of the Field Museum, to the renovated Soldier Field that retains their classical columns with the modern “UFO” addition, to the soon-to-be-constructed Lucas Museum that is full on futuristic. I love the bold, radical designs for their aesthetics, but perhaps even moreso for its progressive statement in a city whose architecture continues to highly evolve.

Flat out, just these images of the Lucas Museum ignite the imagination, and that’s without seeing the interior, described very vividly in the ArchDaily interview with MAD Architects director Ma Yansong that accompanied the release of today’s renderings. Yansong gave a ton of amazing quotes and insight about the design. It’s a must-read if you’ve taken the time out to arrive on this page.

When people enter the building they will arrive on the dome level, and they will see this huge space with natural light coming down from the top.

– Ma Yansong, director MAD Architects


George Lucas museum architects

One of the most mainstream stories in architecture this summer was where George Lucas was going to decide to put his museum to hold his collection of illustrations and pop art, with reported estimated worth at $1 billion dollars. Last month, Lucas, who is from the Bay Area, nixed a site by the Golden Gate bridge and awarded it to his “second home” of Chicago.

Today, Lucas publicized his architectural dream team headlined by the hometown’s Jeanne Gang, principal of Studio Gang, and Ma Yansong of Beijing’s MAD Architects (and designer of the “Marilyn Monroe Towers” in Toronto, pictured above). Lucas is also enlisting another Chicago firm, VOA Architects, to be the museum’s executive architect. The Trib’s Blair Kamin reports that, “while Ma and Gang focus on the broad creative strokes, VOA will be responsible for details like construction drawings.” Also, through his spokeswoman, Devon Spurgeon, Lucas interviewed fewer than 10 firms from around the world for the museum with UNStudio the runner-up.


I’m particularly excited for the collaborative project as, not even a fan of Star Wars (I know, I know), but rather to see how Yansong and his team design the building in synchronization with how Studio Gang forms the landscape around the museum. Plus, Gang and her team will be adding a pedestrian bridge linking the museum to their ongoing ecological transformation of Northerly Island (which I covered more in-depth recently as part of a larger piece here).

Conceptual designs for the George Lucas museum are expected later this year, but to hold over the reader that clicked hoping to see said designs, here is the latest from Studio Gang — new renderings released this month of the beautiful 400-ft residential Folsom Square Tower planned for downtown San Francisco (more info here).

Tishman Speyer
Folsom Square Tower | Tishman Speyer
Folsom Square Tower | Tishman Speyer
Folsom Square Tower | Tishman Speyer

Purpose is the process

It’s not only what we design… It is what we know, it’s what we say, it’s what we take part in that frankly helps drive change.

– Jeanne Gang

The AIA National Convention began last Thursday morning in Chicago with a keynote speech by Jeanne Gang, a 2011 MacArthur Fellow award winner (the first architect “genius grant” winner in 10+ years) and founder and principal of Chicago-based Studio Gang. The Arie Crown Theater was standing room only all the way up to the balconies as still a fraction of the 20,000 (!) attendees over the weekend were able to hear Gang’s presentation on “Purpose is the process.”

I felt this statement alone an important one to share, which Gang elaborates that by aligning the design process with the crux of the urban issue at hand, it guides the designer’s purpose. To me, this design example is another case, amongst countless like it, of breaking down the answer to “why do you do this?” to its core form.

Gang further posed this question, “Does architecture create social change, or is it social change that determines architecture? Social change is reliant on spatial change, and spatial change is dependent on social change to realize itself… but it’s a dialectical relationship.”

This harmonious, changing circle was resonated through Gang’s work including plans that are under construction now to revamp Chicago’s Northerly Island, previously known for its inefficient public runway space for private planes and the origin location of ‘The Power of 10’ (you know, that amazing video from high school physics class that continually zooms out to show how small we are in the universe.)

An overview of the new Northerly Island, designed by Studio Gang.
An overview of the new Northerly Island, designed by Studio Gang. (All photos below via Studio Gang.)
Northerly Island is now the largest urban aquatic restoration project in the country.
Northerly Island is now the largest urban aquatic restoration project in the country.

Gang and her team were guided by the need to utilize the 90-acre Northerly Island for people, wildlife, and habitat, and fulfill a vision to turn the prime space into a park of the future. In fact, the new Northerly Island is now the country’s largest urban aquatic restoration project with Phase I expecting completion in 2015 (more info here).

Another example that Gang delivered was the firm’s ongoing renovation of the National Aquarium in Baltimore. She jokingly added that she was “designing for porpoise,” and given my great affection for puns, this statement drove home the “Purpose is the process” keynote in a different way.

The project supports the statement as Studio Gang’s design approach is to sustain a sanctuary for the dolphins the Aquarium houses and turn the aquarium into a “touch point” to the ocean, as aquariums themselves evolve into more than an entertainment venue to even more of a center for ocean and water education. Gang looked at how, for instance, 95% of the ocean floor remains unmapped and that 2% of the ocean is protected (mind-boggling numbers) and designed the Aquarium in mind as a visitor serving organization to bring ocean issues like this to the patrons’ forefront (more info here).

A rendering of the National Aquarium in Baltimore, as the Studio Gang update is planned for competition later this year.
A rendering of the National Aquarium in Baltimore, as the Studio Gang update is planned for completion later this year.

Alas, this brings me back to the quote that led this article, and it’s actually how Jeanne Gang concluded her keynote:

It’s not only what we design… It is what we know, it’s what we say, it’s what we take part in that frankly helps drive change.

What I love about this quote is that it’s a message that resonates with all of us. It highlights Gang’s focus on the relationship between spatial and social change, and also reinforces the idea that, really everything we do, affects change.

I liken the quote to the idea of what we focus our thoughts and attention on is what we attract. In these specific examples, and across their portfolio, Jeanne Gang and her studio use this energy in a specific, thoughtful, and beneficial way to create social and urban harmony.


So, now knowing that “Purpose is the process,” what about Studio Gang’s actual process?

Well, after the talk, I happened to walk by the AIA Store where Jeanne Gang was conducting a book signing for two of her previously published books Reveal and Building: Inside Studio Gang Architects. Curious to find out more about Studio Gang and meet Gang herself, I bought Reveal (in part due to its striking cover) and briefly chatted with her about Chicago and the conference.

Studio Gang Architects ‘Reveal’ | Signed copy from Jeanne Gang

Upon reading Reveal this week, I have gained a greater understanding of Studio Gang’s creative process, one Gang wanted to be transparent about given her assertion that “architecture has amnesia”. I also reflected on how the book aligns with the talk highlighted above. In fact, Gang presents Reveal as not merely a verb, but an idea — an idea described here:

Going beyond the “how,” reveal begins to address the question of “why?”; thereby becoming an idea which recognizes that pleasure and discovery often stem from looking at the world with openness, as if we are seeing it for the first time.

– Jeanne Gang, Reveal, p. 24

This is how Gang concluded her introductory essay to the book in 2011, which is parallel to the ideas of breaking down the “why?” of a design issue to first and foremost guide your purpose in 2014.

I believe that reveal as an idea is more than the technical design solutions and is indeed that “what we know”, that “looking at the world with openness”, and that wholesome, yet informed perspective that we can strive to apply to literally everything we do in our daily lives.

If you’re searching for inspiration and a greater understanding at the connection between design and harmony, then Reveal is a book I would suggest, and is also a book that’s not dependent on you being a design professional to enjoy.

There are a series of amazing visuals that describe the research and inspirations behind Studio Gang’s most prominent projects. You see the Ford Calumet Environmental Center, where they researched bird’s nests to see what qualities birds search for to protect themselves and applying it to the design. The 18 ft. tall Marble Curtain project, made of 620 pieces of stone, but weighing just 1500 pounds. Studio Gang explored stone as a light and thin material, opposing its traditional use as a load-barring material and exposing its transparent properties. And I would be remiss to not mention my personal favorite: Chicago’s own Aqua Tower that creates an ever-changing illusory experience of dunes and lakes formed by curvilinear balconies that reveal the inside by not solely relying on the transparency of glass. It’s only natural I let Ms. Gang have the last words to this post:

At Aqua Tower it [reveal] acts like a map, pointing out landmarks in the city and providing habitable topography on the facade from which to see them, while at the Blue Wall Center, reveal metaphorically magnifies nature that is otherwise too camouflaged to be appreciated.

– Jeanne Gang, Reveal, p. 24

Aqua Tower | Studio Gang Architects
Aqua Tower — Emporis Skyscraper of the Year Award 2009 | Studio Gang Architects

Studio Gang’s NYC Solar Carve Tower

Studio Gang, the Chicago-based firm most noted for the beautiful Aqua building off of Randolph & Michigan, and their latest, innovative design — the ‘Solar Carve Tower’ in NYC is moving forward, but at a smaller scale than seen above. The beautiful office tower clocked in at 213-feet tall, 180,000 square feet. But, as another reminder that not all designs can get approved 100% of the time, the NYC Board of Standards finally approved a fourth application this week.

Though the tower in the rendering is 34% larger than the new, approved plans for the tower, I’m very much looking forward to what the new adjusted design will look like. Will the tower retain the same shape, more or less, just at a smaller height and width (like if you held the ‘shift’ button down and dragged the corner diagonally?) Or will the tower look vastly different altogether?

Apparently we won’t have to wait too long in the larger scheme of things as principal Jeanne Gang anticipates a 2015 completion:

This important decision will preserve the design and enhance the experience along the High Line for residents of New York and the greater community of visitors to the site. The Solar Carve Tower project is ongoing with an anticipated design completion in 2015.

h/t ArchPaper