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Material Tendencies: Jeanne Gang

Jun 21, 2018

Shifting the focus of the Material Tendencies series, to take in the perspective of the architect, Architonic met up with Jeanne Gang, founder of the Chicago-based Studio Gang

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Text by Anita Hackethal
Photography by Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing

Architonic: Please describe a recent project of your choice.
Jeanne Gang: I was excited to show the Writers Theatre here today at the World Architecture Festival in Berlin. Located in Glencoe, an old little village in Illinois, the former small theatre used to operate out of the back of a bookstore. They had no identity and they found that the people wanted to gather after the show for more conversations. 

We kept the character of a very intimate theatre, but then we made this incredible space where people can come together. We are really loving watching how it’s being used in all kind of interesting ways. For me, one of the things that is most important about architecture is making place for people to meet each other and to build relationships with the architecture. I’m seeing that unfolding in the Writers Theatre.

Could you tell us about the materials that have been used?
We decided to use materials that are very warm, like wood. We used the wood structurally, plaster as a material and we created big veranda trusses made of sustainably harvested wood. A walkway circles around the lobby space so that people can step out of the building during intermission or just connect to nature. Inside, we reused the brick material from the former building.

Would you say there is a building material for the 21st century, a certain tendency?
We have to figure out as a society how to build with materials that are not damaging the planet. I really like wood. It can be used in so many different ways and the engineering is getting better. There are a lot of advances in the use of wood, even for taller, bigger buildings. We are currently working on a high-rise in Denver with a wood and concrete composite structure.

The other thing is thinking about how materials are being processed and trying to meet certain environmental and sustainability criteria. The “Living Building Challenge” is all about banning materials and processes that are damaging. What I like about these kind of certification programmes is that I could actually help to change the industries. It can really help moving the needle on sustainability.

Most of the time is actually being spent inside a building. Besides the materials, how much attention do you pay to the interior?
We don’t see a difference between exterior and interior, but in the interior you really need to bring the scale down so that people can inhabit every inch of the building, in interesting ways. We pay a lot of attention to products, but also custom-designed pieces. Also here, more and more, we want to know what is inside those pieces of furniture, how were they made, what chemicals were used to produce them… I think in the future, just like with food, we will be able to check the label on the back – that is what we need for buildings, furniture and materials.

jeanne gang
Writers Theatre Glencoe, IL (2016)
jeanne gang
South Pond - Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo Chicago (2010)
jeanne gang
Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership Kalamazoo, MI (2014)
jeanne gang
Maisonette Chicago (2009)
jeanne gang
Aqua Tower Chicago (2010)

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