When Jeanne Gang was brought on board in April to help reimagine a stalled tower in downtown Lexington, Kentucky, the entire community’s spirits were uplifted by the bold collaboration proposed by the Chicago-based architect and MacArthur genius. Studio Gang’s design replaced an uninspired high-rise block that destroyed an entire city block before running out of steam, but developer Dudley Webb announced Thursday that Gang will no longer be involved with the mixed-use project.
Studio Gang’s proposal called for a 30-story tower of bundled tubes anchoring one corner housing a small hotel and residences and an 8-story crystalline office tower on the opposite side. In between, smaller structures to be designed by five local firms were situated around green space and organized with a cellular ground plan.
Michael Speaks, Dean of the College of Architecture at the University of Kentucky was disappointed by the news that Studio Gang would no longer be involved. “I assumed, like I think a lot of people, Studio Gang had been hired to do the whole thing,” he told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “My impression is that Jeanne thought they were going to do the whole project, too.”
Webb said the bundled tower was among the challenges that wouldn’t work for the project. Plans for a boutique hotel fell through, so the developer reverted to original plans for a much larger J.W. Marriott convention hotel. Webb told the Herald-Leader that Marriott will only work with architects who have previously designed convention hotels, a project type Studio Gang hasn’t undertaken. Jeanne Gang had expressed interest in working with an architect from Marriott to move the project forward.
Now, EOP Architects, one of the five local firms brought on board by Gang to work on the project, will work to redesign the larger hotel and its accompanying 10,000 square foot ballroom and fit it into Studio Gang’s master plan. Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who was influential in bringing Studio Gang on board in the first place, suggested the city should insist on a design that won’t compromise Gang’s original vision.