Jeanne Gang’s ‘Reveal’ Reveals All

May 11, 2011 · Print This Article

GUEST POST BY ELIZABETH CORR


In April, Princeton Architectural Press released the first monograph by Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects. Reveal is completely enthralling, so much so that it becomes impossible not to pour over every single footnote, photo caption, and insert. There are incredible nuggets of information packed throughout, all of which provide a voyeuristic glimpse into the day-to-day operations of one of the most wildly successful and innovative design firms coming out of Chicago.**

I have to admit that I tend to get nervous when an artist I admire steps boldly into new territory – in this instance writing. There is always the fear of disappointment, but fortunately Reveal does nothing of the sort.

The book is organized according to a logic that underscores much of the undertakings of Studio Gang – by material. It is this fascination, obsession really, with material that makes Studio Gang’s work so compelling. They’re consistently pushing the boundaries, and in doing so, challenging perceived limitations of materials from both performance and aesthetic perspectives. This approach to design is refreshingly scientific and deeply rooted in a process of assemblage. The studio searches for inspiration in seemingly unlikely places, and it is this guiding philosophy that distinguishes their approach from that of many other firms.

For example, when you think about steel what comes to mind? For those at Studio Gang, one answer would be samurai swords. Seems strange at first, but by the end of the essay I found myself nodding in agreement wondering why I hadn’t made that connection ages ago. This is just one example of the seemingly disparate connections Reveal pushes you to make, thereby confronting the often times insular world of architecture.

The Aqua Tower in Chicago by Studio Gang Architects

What’s particularly nice about Reveal is that it doesn’t try to do too much. That doesn’t sound like a compliment, but it really is. Since this is their first publication, Jeanne could have crammed loads of information in here, surely there is a great selection to choose from, but instead she demonstrates great restraint, letting the Studio Gang narrative come to life through a robust collection of images, sketches, foldout essays, and graphics  – for those graphically inclined, the credits page is not to be missed (see this article at Imprint for numerous page illustrations from the book). As a whole, the publication challenges the commonplace way in which public discourse on architecture is shaped – i.e. around one, maybe two, superstar partners – and instead, insists upon acknowledging a broad range of collaborators (engineers, scientists, fellow architects, students to name a few) that make each of Studio Gang’s designs possible.

Columbia College Chicago Media Production Center / Studio Gang Architects

Reveal illuminates the idiosyncratic approach through which Studio Gang garners inspiration, and it is precisely this process that lends credence to the studio’s overall designs – designs that seamlessly articulate the needs of clients, communities and environment.

I patiently await the next installment, and something tells me I’m not alone.

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**Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that Jeanne Gang is a supporter of NRDC, where the writer is currently employed.

Elizabeth Corr received a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in African Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her graduate work focused on contemporary African art in post-apartheid South Africa. She lives in Chicago and works at NRDC, an environmental nonprofit.