A handful of Studio Gang’s projects have gained a certain level of notoriety in part because of their distinctive outdoor spaces, including the front yard of the Brick Weave House, the flowing balconies of Aqua Tower, and the upcoming cellular balconies of City Hyde Park.
The Architect’s Newspaper: How do you conceive of outdoor space in your designs?
Jeanne Gang: Urban living has plenty of benefits, but I think the concept of outdoor space in the city remains somewhat underdeveloped. We’ve been looking for ways to extend outdoor living in cities in multiple ways. Through our work with the Aqua Tower, we’ve evolved the concept of a balcony into something that can create the identity of the building, as well as a tool to offer a sense of community. At City Hyde Park, which opens this month, the balconies create an entirely new kind of vertical neighborhood space on the facade while doubling as a sunshade. On a larger scale, we’ve been designing outdoor space to support biodiversity, complemented by architecture with a programmatic flexibility, such as the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo and the Northerly Island Park framework plan, a portion of which opened last September.
How does that play out, more specifically, in the City Hyde Park project?
We wanted to improve the energy performance of the structure and decided to use the balconies as a kind of sunshade that are self-supported and act like a column. We call them “balcony stems.” Making a series of balconies into a column also allowed us to design a thermal break between the balcony and the structure, saving more energy. Along with the other shared amenity spaces in the building, the balconies form a private outdoor space—one that allows oblique visual connections between neighbors. We view this as a benefit for creating community in a building type that has traditionally only supported the private experience.
Have clients been open to exterior experimentation, or do they generally need convincing?
Generally, our clients have recognized that people have a variety of needs, including privacy, social interaction, and access to a variety of green spaces in order to lead full, healthy lives, and that these kinds of amenities benefit everyone.
Have you been able to speak with clients post-occupancy to hear how the outdoor space is being utilized?
Anecdotally, Chicago residents of the Aqua Tower have high praise for the balconies and common areas of the tower, including its 80,000-square-foot outdoor roof garden. I’ve also been an occasional guest of people living high up on the tower who use the terraces as an extension of their living space for entertaining. The differing curves also work to create less windy conditions for residents and extend the season of their use.
What have been some of the insights gained from one project to the next concerning the design of outdoor space?
An important part of designing taller structures is how they meet the ground. Whenever we can, we have been trying to make the base of the buildings as porous as possible to enhance urban connectivity. With our Vista Tower project in Chicago, we’re creating a public connection literally under the building on two levels to connect a park space to the river walk. Though difficult due to the functional needs at the base of these large buildings, I think this is a quality we will continue to pursue.