4 Questions for MacArthur "Genius" Grant Honoree Jeanne Gang

Architect Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang.Chicago-based architect Jeanne Gang first drew international attention with her landmark high-rise, Aqua Tower. A potent example of form following function, the 82-floor skyscraper’s undulating balconies capture prime views and modulate strong winds, while reinvigorating the often-staid architectural form.

Studio Gang has since been tapped to design the expansion of the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the U.S. Embassy in Brazil, and now, the MacArthur “genius” grant honoree is bringing her elegant imprint to San Francisco: She is the architect of the new 160 Fosom tower, a residential high-rise near the Embarcadero that is in the works, and in November she won the commission to design the expanded campus of the California College of the Arts (CCA) Here, she shares her thoughts on architecture in the Bay and beyond.

A rendering of 160 Folsom, currently in development by Jeanne Gang.The rendering of 160 Folsom bears a nodding resemblance to Aqua, but the pattern is quite different. Can you talk about how you arrived at the two designs?
Both explore how tall buildings can be more social and less isolating. In the case of Aqua, the site was surrounded by tall buildings, so it was designed to create a landscape on its façade, providing opportunities for sightlines from balconies on different levels. For 160 Folsom, we created a system of “migrating” bay windows that travel up the façade, rotating to maximize the extraordinary views of the city and surroundings. These bays connect to the architecture of San Francisco, and they are also functional, incorporating fresh air and daylight into every unit.

After an international search, you were recently selected to design the new CCA campus. What are the most exciting aspects of that project?
The combination of programs that the new unified campus for the CCA will include is probably the biggest challenge and opportunity. The site is also very interesting and layered, located in a burgeoning design district.

We are excited to work with a client who understands and plans to be a part of the design process, and look forward to exploring with them the possibilities for 21st-century arts education.

If you could redesign any other public institution, what would it be?
Museums hybridized with other programs. I’ve always been interested in how institutions are changing, and I think we could bring great design insight toward organizing and inspiring their transformation.

Where do you think the future of architecture lies?
As people develop increasingly connected and virtual lives, I think that physical spaces for people to gather, discuss and build community will become increasingly important. Architecture can build social connectivity in ways that will help keep our cities safe and livable. I fear that with greater wealth disparity, we are losing connections to neighbors, to people who come from different walks of life and have had different experiences. As architects, we also need to continue to push the boundaries of sustainability, exploring the material, formal and spatial possibilities of building sustainably around the world. 

A version of this article appeared in the February/March 2017 issue of SFC&G (San Francisco Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: The Urbanist.