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Jeanne Gang: Can Design Help Rebuild Trust?

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Jeanne Gang calls herself a relationship builder. An architect’s design choices, she believes, should begin with creating connections between people. Some of Gang’s most successful projects, including the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, the Aqua Tower, and a proposal for a completely reimagined police station, are all designed to foster a more trusting relationship between community members.

Jeanne Gang

Image: Jeanne Gang, the founding principal of the Studio Gang.

Polis Station

The concept for Polis Station, was shaped in 2015 based on a report on 21st Century Policing by a task force convened by former US President Barack Obama. “Polis” is a Greek word which means a place with a sense of community. “It is based on the idea that if you can increase opportunities for positive social interactions between police and community members, you can rebuild that relationship and activate the neighborhood at the same time,” says Gang.

Jeanne Gang Studio Polis Station

People see police stations as more of a jail. This experiment in empathetic policing will help us explore how design can help people rebuild trust. Gang’s plan features creative ideas for repurposing the police station. It includes a vegetable garden, a gym, and lounges with free Wi-Fi, all designed to draw community members to hang out in stations and eventually build friendlier and more trusting relationships with the cops. Her vision paints a mix-use of space with sports facilities, meditation zones, outdoor theatres, places of worship, markets, and public housing for cops and community members.

Aqua Tower

Aqua Tower Jeanne GangThe Aqua is a residential high-rise in Chicago aimed at young urban professionals and empty nesters, many of whom are new to the city.

Gang, who has run her firm Gang Studio, has never designed a skyscraper before and the Aqua happened almost by accident. The skyscraper received a lot of attention, given to the fact that it is the talent building in the world designed by a woman. Gang’s achievements have more to do with us, freeing from the isolation and the inwardness from lack of social cohesion.

The Aqua Tower is conventional in plan and radical in terms of form. It boasts 700 apartments, all organized in a vertical dimension, where the balconies are the new social fabricators. The result of this is that you can actually see people from your balcony. The building has a positive social effect on the community, like people starting an organic community garden on the building’s roof terrace and other big projects together. In addition, special emphasis is given on innovative green design and energy-efficient features such as heat-resistant and fritted glass, energy-saving lighting systems, rainwater collection systems which address environmental concerns.

The thought-provoking design gives a glimpse of the future of building integrating urban and societal transformation.

In architecture, there’s a long-standing debate whether it can improve social relationships. Jeanne Gang believes we can use a more inclusive design process to add something positive to rebuild trust in the community. We can reduce the stress of isolation and polarization in urban habitats.

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