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Studio Gang Eyes Move to Bigger Digs Near Polish Triangle

By Alisa Hauser | March 13, 2014 7:22pm
 Architect Jeanne Gang was recognized by the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt Museum's 2013 National Design Awards. Her studio's design for the Clark Park boathouse is seen here.
Architect Jeanne Gang was recognized by the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt Museum's 2013 National Design Awards. Her studio's design for the Clark Park boathouse is seen here.
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Getty Images/Tasos Katopodis/Studio Gang

NOBLE SQUARE — One of the city's most famed architects and her team, Studio Gang, are hoping to close "very soon" on the purchase of a vintage art deco building in Noble Square that will serve as their new headquarters, a lawyer for architect Jeanne Gang confirmed on Thursday.

Though Gang was not present at the Landmark Commission's permit review committee meeting on Thursday, her lawyer, Bridget O'Keefe, said Gang is seeking to convert a building at 1520 W. Division St. to an office for Studio Gang, her architectural firm.

Gang will be requesting a Landmark designation for the 30,000-square-foot building that is just south of the Polish Triangle at Milwaukee, Ashland and Division Street. 

 Architect Jeanne Gang and her team of architects, Studio Gang, 
Studio Gangs Plans Move to 1520 W. Division St.
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O'Keefe and Studio Gang architect Harry Soenken, who was at the meeting on Thursday, said many of the employees want to stay in the area and several walk to their current office at 1212 N. Ashland Ave., which they have outgrown.

"We have 50 people in our office right now and are bursting at the seams. We hope to be 65 people by the end of this year," Soenken said.

Provided everything works out as planned, Studio Gang hopes to move into the building at the beginning of next year, Soenken said.

Last year, Gang and her Studio Gang firm were awarded a top prize for overall architectural design from the Smithsonian, which cited her Lincoln Park Zoo Nature Boardwalk among other Chicago projects.

The judges of the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt Museum's 2013 National Design Awards called the zoo work, a 14-acre biodiverse habitat, not only a practical storm water infrastructure but an "engaging public space."

"Gang uses architecture as a medium of active response to contemporary issues and their impact on the human experience," they said. "Each project resonates with its specific site and culture while addressing larger global themes such as urbanization, climate and sustainability."

Designed as an "outdoor classroom," the boardwalk features a unique fiberglass and wood pavilion curved to mimic the shell of a tortoise. The boardwalk itself is made of recycled milk cartons and other plastics.

Gang founded Studio Gang in 1997 and her often-quirky work has delighted both professionals and the public alike.

Her Clark Park Boathouse in Roscoe Village officially opened last year. The 22,000-square-foot, $7.4 million project was inspired by rowers and their strokes. Its main lobby is designed to mimic an orange life vest.

Gang made a distinctive mark on the lakefront with her undulating 82-story Aqua building at 225 N. Columbus.

Gang has said she has a preference for "things that look light, almost fragile," which will be a sharp contrast to the Polish National Alliance Building, which Mary Ann Smith, a Landmark Commissioner, described as strong. 

"If you look at the building itself, and I can say this, it looks Polish, a big strong building," Smith said.

Most previously home to the College of Office Technology Building, a vocational school that moved out about five months ago, the building was constructed in 1937 and 1938.

One half, or 15,000 square feet, of the building will be for Gang Studios, while the other half will be rented to two or three tenants, one of which could be a restaurant that would rent the garden-level storefront.

Gang is proposing to build a rooftop deck and event space on the roof, as well as a green roof.  The roof space will be used by the staff of Studio Gang as well as possibly by the restaurant tenant, who will use the space for catered parties.

In addition to the exterior restoration, Gang is also proposing to do interior rehabilitation of the building and "saving quite a few of the interior spaces, the plaster, the moldings, the cornices," Soenken said.

Eleanor Gorski, Director of Chicago Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission, said the Polish National Alliance is "an ethnic Landmark in the neighborhood. "

There was no voting on the scope of Gang's plans by the seven commissioners on Thursday at the request of O'Keefe, who deferred the matter to April, when the preliminary designation for Landmark status for the Polish National Alliance Building will be considered.

Receiving Class L tax incentives to renovate the building is essential to the viability of the project, Soenken said.

After the meeting, Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, said his group "would like to see a Chicago Landmark Designation and full restoration of this important Art Deco-Art Modern building."

In a text message to DNAinfo Chicago, Ald Bob Fioretti (2nd) said he would be supporting the Landmark designation and Gang's plans with "a resounding yes."

"She will restore the building's historical importance with architectural integrity," Fioretti said.