This story is from the 2019 Access FYI: FedEx Young Innovators List. Explore more from this issue
Jeanne Gang posing for photo

Reimagining the Police Station

This architectural firm is exploring ways design can build community connections.

Jeanne Gang posing for photo

Chicago architect Jeanne Gang made news in March when the team she’s leading — Studio ORD Joint Venture Partners — was chosen from a field of 12 prestigious firms for a $2.2 billion, 2.2 million-square-foot expansion of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. The selection was based, in part, on the past work of her own firm, Studio Gang, which has designed dozens of notable projects in Chicago and around the world. (Current projects include a redesign of Tom Lee Park on the Mississippi riverfront in Memphis, Tennessee, home of FedEx.) But Studio Gang’s most impactful project may very well be one much less grandiose: reimagining a police station.

Studio gang is changing the way how communities connect with each other around the worldStudio Gang organized gatherings that brought neighbors, youth, police officers and designers together to discuss neighborhood ideas.

Polis Station is a research project that seeks to transform urban police stations so that they better connect with their communities — and give police officers opportunities to engage with people beyond law enforcement. (“Polis” references the Greek word for a city-state characterized for its sense of community.) By proposing a series of design ideas to activate police stations as civic assets, Studio Gang suggests that they can form a network of recreational, educational, even entrepreneurial services. That helps build a more cohesive social fabric in neighborhoods, which, in turn, builds healthier and safer communities.

Studio Gang put some of their design ideas in action in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago. Architects conducted roundtables and “Community Café” workshops to learn what police officers and residents, including teens, wanted from their neighborhood. Because residents and officers voiced an interest in having a safe place to play basketball, Studio Gang designed a half-basketball court to replace a little-used portion of the parking lot at the 10th District’s North Lawndale police station. It was built in 2016.

But Studio Gang built more than a place to play basketball. It built a way for officers to engage with teens and others in the neighborhood — people they might not otherwise meet. Work that was expanded upon by their Neighborhood Activation Study, commissioned by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice in New York last year to explore how to increase public safety. In both cases, Studio Gang is building examples other cities can look to for planning public assets in the future.


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