Material Connections: Writers Theatre
Studio Gang explore how the history and lifecycle of building materials can inform architectural form making. Their research considers the narratives embedded in material and its distribution that engage with wider social, political, economic, and philosophical issues. Wood timber played a generative role for their Writers Theatre project, completed in 2016 in Glencoe, Illinois. Presented here is a full-scale mock-up of the wood structure that Studio Gang designed to support the theater lobby’s second-floor canopy walk. This structure reflects the local area’s history of timber production and resonates with Glencoe’s many Tudor style buildings, which recall a golden age of English drama. Its seemingly delicate lattice screen is actually an innovative structural system that uses wood in tension. Hung from the roof beams, its outer layer of Port Orford cedar battens suspend the canopy walk without mechanical fastening. Used in place of fastening is a wood “cat’s paw” detail developed in collaboration with a team of timber specialists and engineers that utilizes connection techniques akin to traditional Chinese and Japanese joinery methods. The full-scale mock-up was used to test the structural and expressive capabilities of this innovative wood system.
Founded by architect and MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang, Studio Gang is an architecture and urban design practice based in Chicago and New York. The Studio works across scales and typologies—from cultural and public buildings, to urban plans, to high-rise towers—with a design process that foregrounds the relationships between individuals, communities, and environments. The Studio’s interdisciplinary and research-driven approach has produced some of today’s most innovative architecture, such as Writers Theatre, a professional theater facility north of Chicago with an iconic timber canopy walk; and the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Michigan’s Kalamazoo College, the first institutional-scale building made using wood masonry technique. Current projects include an expansion of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City; the new United States Embassy in Brasília, Brazil; and mixed-use towers in Toronto, Chicago, and Amsterdam. The Studio is also one of two finalists in the international competition for the renovation of the Tour Montparnasse in Paris.
Honored with the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award for Architecture, the Studio has published and exhibited widely, including at the Venice Architecture Biennale, Museum of Modern Art, and National Building Museum. Jeanne Gang was recently honored with the 2017 Louis I. Kahn Memorial Award.