When an environmental problem arises and the Army Corps of Engineers fails to act, leave it to an architect to pick up the reins. The Great Lakes, a vital source of fresh water, are threatened by Asian carp, an invasive species with no known predators. Architect Jeanne Gang has proposed a solution that would create a barrier between the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan, restoring the natural flow of the Chicago River while also helping to introduce green infrastructure and revitalize a neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.
The first architect to receive a MacArthur genius grant in over a decade, Gang recently release her book Reverse Effect, which she produced during a year-long collaboration with the Natural Resources Defense Council and a group of students from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. While an architect may not be the most obvious person to take on an environmental challenge, her commitment to such issues is long-standing. She is well-known for her 82-story Aqua tower in downtown Chicago and has developed a proposal for the yet-to-be-funded Ford Calumet Environmental Center on Chicago’s far South Side that would be made mostly of locally-salvaged industrial materials and will have an artificial wetland to treat wastewater.
Gang’s current vision to mitigate the invasive species problem was inspired by a 2003 summit hosted in Chicago. After reading a series of practical solutions offered by the NRDC in 2010, Gang took a close look at Chicago using Google Earth and began brainstorming how a hydrological barrier could transform the city.
Under Gang’s plan, a hydrological barrier would create a second waterfront in the form of an inland lagoon. Not only would it drastically change the landscape of Chicago’s South Side and deter the invasive carp species, but it would also force the city to re-think its wastewater treatment system so that cleaned water could be returned to Lake Michigan rather than flowing downstream.
For the moment, Gang’s grand vision remains a concept. For it to take form, US Congress must pass legislation that would support the Army Corps of Engineers to take action — or perhaps they will they leave this to an architect as well.