Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Review: Building: Studio Gang Architects

Building: Studio Gang Architects edited by Jeanne Gang and Zoë Ryan
Yale University Press, 2012
Hardcover, 184 pages

Building: Inside Studio Gang Architects is a solo exhibition devoted to the work of Studio Gang Architects on display at the Art Institute of Chicago until February 24, 2013. The exhibition, and the accompanying book, are separated into five "Building" categories: Nature, Density, Community, Performance, Ideas. These headings split the 13 projects in the exhibition (12 are featured in the catalog) into four sections that roughly correspond with typology without being subject to the limitations of such—the fifth section, Ideas, serves to present how Jeanne Gang and her office works.
Process is found in all of the projects, as archival materials and text serve to explain projects like the Nature Boardwalk at the Lincoln Park Zoo (Nature), Aqua Tower (Density), City Hyde Park (Community), and the Writers' Theatre (Performance). A timeline sequence for each project rings the walls of the galleries and structures the exhibition. But, like the rope-ring concoctions hanging in the middle of the gallery, the book is a bit looser in terms of format. What is missing in the translation from exhibition to book is the emphasis on the sources of inspiration, sometimes obscure, for the various projects; in the exhibition they are lovingly displayed in Joseph Cornell-esque plexiglass boxes (appropriate, given the Art Institute's huge collection of his lightboxes), but in the book they have a less noteworthy presence among the other project illustrations.

The emphasis on process is an extension of Gang's great monograph Reveal, released in 2011. While hardly a sequel, the catalog to Building has a lot of new projects, illustrating the stupendous output of an architect who has since garnered a MacArthur Fellowship and expanded her projects beyond her hometown of Chicago (a building next to the High Line is but one of these new projects that is included in the exhibition). The project presentations in Building are not as rich as Reveal, but the supplementary information that makes up the Ideas chapter is especially valuable, delving into how they build models, what they read, and even how they designed and fabricated the exhibition installation. Sarah Whiting's interview with Jeanne Gang is particularly enlightening, and it ends on a note that should be shared by many: looking forward to Gang's explorations of form and technology in future projects.

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