Art Institute of Chicago: Studio Gang Architects

Designers: Studio Gang | City: Chicago, IL
Date Visited: 10.23.12

Location: 111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL
Opening Dates: September 24, 2012 – February 24, 2013

No visit to Chicago is complete without at least half a day at the Art Institute. I was doubly fortunate that my visit coincided with the recent opening of Building: Inside Studio Gang Architects, “the first exhibition in the world devoted to the Chicago-based group headed by MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang.”

From fall 2012 to early spring 2013, Studio Gang Architects (SGA) will exhibit over a dozen of their projects in their first solo show, focusing not only on showcasing the design lifecycle of projects, but also important contemporary issues facing our urban environments today.

Founded in 1997 by Jeanne Gang, Studio Gang Architects is a award-winning, Chicago-based architecture and design firm. Their work has been recognized, published, and exhibited widely around the world from the major contemporary art exhibition International Venice Biennale to NYC’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Building Museum.

In Chicago, their most notable and recent works include the playfully, undulating Aqua Tower, which received the 2009 Emporis Skyscraper of the Year and is also the tallest building in the world designed by a woman (82-story); the Northerly Island framework plan; and the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo; all projects which have had made an impression on my visit to Chicago.

Their solo show at the IA takes visitors into their working laboratory and the design process of many of their projects around the world, from design conception to model making to even construction documents. A custom-made installation by SGA in collaboration with museum curators showcase the architectural work as an engaging, interactive learning experience through use of full-scale mock ups, technology, and material samples of concept design booklets and construction document booklets.

From the SGA Website:

The installation—designed by SGA in collaboration with the Art Institute’s Zoe Ryan and Karen Kice—consists of two interrelated parts. The first functions as a gallery with projects illustrated through a range of materials from sketchbooks and models to photographs, plans, and other drawings. This space will also feature a special series of installations, also designed by SGA, dedicated to the studio’s material research and formal explorations. The second section of the exhibition replicates a workshop, complete with a large worktable, pin-up boards, full-scale mock-ups, and material samples.

Even though architecture is a complex discipline, the exhibition is able to clearly and creatively walk the visitor through the process. SGA uses many organic forms found in nature as their basis for design, such as wave patterns for Aqua and hexagonal honeybee colonies for planning the division of space on Northerly Island. Since the firm often uses simple, yet universally understandable forms in their conceptual design, I think the projects are more easily translated to the layman and sparks creativity. Other than the stellar models in the gallery, my favorite part of the exhibit was the workshop in the second section, where the curators and designers pinned up a whole wall of red-lined construction documents and played a looped video showing the installation process of the current IA exhibition.

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