Kappe & Gang Draw from Nature

Event: Checkerboard Conversations: Ray Kappe: California Modern Master, Forty Years of Modular Evolution and Studio Gang Architects
Location: Center for Architecture, 09.30.10 & 10.14.10
Speakers: Ray Kappe, FAIA — Principal, Kappe Architects/Planners & Original Founder, Southern California Institute of Architecture; Jeanne Gang, FAIA, LEED AP — Principal & Founder, Studio Gang Architects; Suzanne Stephens — Deputy Editor, Architectural Record
Organizer: Checkerboard Film Foundation; Center for Architecture; AIANY Architectural Dialogues Committee

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LivingHome by Kappe Architects/Planners (left); Aqua Tower by Studio Gang Architects.

Courtesy of LivingHomes (left); Tom Piper (right).

The work of Ray Kappe, FAIA, and Jeanne Gang, FAIA, seems to exist at opposite ends of the architectural spectrum. Kappe is known for designing warm but modern West coast homes, while Studio Gang’s 82-story Aqua Tower is turning heads in Chicago. However, these designers both draw inspiration from the natural environment.

Kappe holds the double legacy of being a pioneering Los Angeles architect and founder of the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-ARC). “I always thought it was important to have as much glass as possible so we can have that connection with the outdoors,” he explained. One of his most notable designs — his own home — exhibits this philosophy. The Pacific Palisades home features seven split-levels that cascade along a hillside. Modular in design, it is comprised of concrete core units connected by laminated Douglas fir beams, a theme that has continued throughout his work. Kappe “retired” 20 years ago, but he has never stopped working, most recently joining forces with LivingHomes to design prefabricated, zero-energy homes.

Studio Gang, on the other hand, has become synonymous with sleek skyscrapers. The Aqua Tower, which contains a hotel, apartments, and condos, features unconventional surface topography that disappears under the occasional “pool” of glass. The result is a “vertical landscape that responds to views of specific sites and landmarks,” explained Gang. No two of the thin (nine-inch-thick) floor plates are alike, and they cantilever several feet to create balconies. The sinuous nature of the building allows people to see others on balconies, fostering a sense of community.

In the Studio Gang film, architecture critic Blair Kamin commented that the Aqua Tower “becomes like built nature.” In fact, much of Studio Gang’s work deals not with soaring towers but with the horizontal landscape. For example, they are designing a transformation of Chicago’s Northerly Island into parkland, including natural habitats for fish and birds and space for “urban camping.” Both Kappe’s and Gang’s work proves that seeking inspiration in nature enriches the built environment.