Jeanne Gang aims to repair relations between police, residents

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Jeanne Gang aims to repair relations between police, residents
Chicago’s Aqua Tower

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Jeanne Gang aims to repair relations between police, residents
Chicago’s Aqua Tower

Designing a building, or a block: This is an architect’s job. But what about repairing the relationship between police departments and urban residents?

The Chicago architect Jeanne Gang is aiming for exactly that. By altering police stations from fortresses to community hubs, you can change the mindset of officers and of the community around them. “Spaces and environments are a huge influence on how we behave,” Gang suggests. “It’s a small example, but a police station could be welcoming. Why not make it a space where there’s free WiFi and free computers? That way, it can serve a policing function and a community function at the same time.

“And if you can remake space, you can change a culture.”

That sort of statement has been too rare; for a generation, architects have eschewed such social ambition and the responsibility that comes with it. But Gang, an intellectual leader in the field, is trying to knit together the work of making beautiful buildings and the larger job of building a city that holds together. It’s a rounded vision of what design is about: beauty, but also prosperity and justice.

“It’s what I call actionable idealism,” says Gang, 52, who spoke earlier this month at Carleton University. “We want to help our cities, and help in a physical sense.”

Out of that comes Polis Station, a proposal from her office Studio Gang that was a highlight at the Chicago Architecture Biennial last fall. Working in their home city, Gang’s team of architects and urbanists looked at a typical station on the troubled West Side. Their proposal reimagines the station house, placing the secure areas at the back and a variety of public services – a library, daycare, mental-health-care providers and a community room – all sharing a grand public entrance and adjacent to new park space. […]

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