At this year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial the directors Joseph Grima and Sarah Herda asked participating architects to demonstrate the “State of the Art of Architecture" by submitting projects that they felt told a story about architecture’s importance in society. As explained in this video by Politico Magazine, native Chicagoan Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects responded to this call by looking at an issue that has plagued American cities in startling ways in recent years: the troubled relationships between communities and their police forces. Often hidden behind fortress-like buildings, police stations in their current form tend to project an image closer to hostile than welcoming. But Gang believes it doesn’t have to be that way.
In Studio Gang’s proposal for the Polis Station - a concept named after the Greek word for community - elements of a police station are broken apart and integrated into their community. Police housing is woven into the existing neighborhood fabric to familiarize residents with officers, training and athletic facilities are opened to the community, and comfortable neutral sites such as cafes are designing to act as meeting places where citizens can fill out reports in a more inviting atmosphere. Even the main terminal building features a computer lab and a mental health clinic, so there is never any suspicion of what may be happening behind closed doors.
In Politico's video, Gang talks more about the inspiration for the design, and community members including Delroy Burton, chairman of the Washington, D.C. police union, give their perspective on the project’s feasibility and potential impact on communities. For a project like this, listening to those voices is precisely what is needed to massage the design into something real. Ultimately, Gang admits that architecture cannot provide the entire solution to complex issues such as this, but hopes that the project can be seen as an “open-source” ideal for neighborhoods to try out pieces and find out what might work for them.