Polis Station

Video by Spirit of Space

Location
Chicago; national framework model

Status
Ongoing

Type
Civic

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Polis Station seeks to contribute to the national dialogue on policing reform by exploring how design can help people imagine changes in police-community relations.

By taking a close look at the police station—the architectural space of policing—the project offers ideas that can help transform urban police stations into neighborhood investments that ultimately strengthen their communities in return.

Polis Station proposes reorienting police stations toward their communities to become sites of social connection where police officers and neighborhood residents can find many opportunities to interact in non-enforcement situations. It lays out a series of physical and programmatic steps that can be taken to activate police stations as civic assets. It also illustrates how these opportunities can expand throughout a neighborhood to form a network of recreational, educational, entrepreneurial, and green spaces that support a healthier and safer community.

Illustrating how the spaces of the police station can be reconfigured to accommodate new programming, Polis Station explores how stations can become full-service community centers that improve public safety, enhance social cohesion, and strengthen the economy of the surrounding neighborhood.

At “Community Café” workshops, we led conversations with local officers and residents of Chicago's 10th District to learn how their station could offer more activities and amenities. We also led workshops with local teens, including a “Round Table” event where, through talking and sketching with students from the Al Raby Public High School, we learned about about the spaces and programs they want to see in their neighborhood.

In order to understand what a community-oriented police station can do and be in Chicago, Studio Gang undertook a significant engagement process, beginning with one-on-one conversations with community leaders and public officials with strong ties to their neighborhoods. These leaders and the issues they raised led to connections with community members, activists, and youth, each with a unique perspective on the spaces of policing. In addition to individual interviews, the Studio also organized gatherings that brought together neighbors, youth, local police officers, and designers to initiate dialogue and ideas.

As the project progressed it became clear that realizing a physical intervention was key to establishing proof of concept. After analyzing five potential sites, the 10th District police station in North Lawndale was chosen. Here, a strong desire for more safe spaces to play—basketball, especially—emerged from conversations with community members and officers. Seizing this aspiration, Studio Gang worked closely with police and community leaders and the local alderman to develop and build a half-court on a little-used portion of the station's parking lot. Today the court has become so popular among local youth that Studio Gang was asked to develop a Phase II, transforming the half court into a full court with new amenities.

By providing safe, shared outdoor recreational space on police property, this simple intervention is supporting new, everyday overlap between the worlds of police officers and neighbors. It has also built productive relationships between residents, officers, local officials, and donors that are leading to future investments in the neighborhood.

While Polis Station was developed for this specific community in Chicago, the proposal’s ideas and principles are intended to help communities everywhere reimagine their police stations as beneficial neighborhood assets.

Video by Spirit of Space

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“While the powerfully sculpted forms of Gang’s buildings are arresting to the eye, she is not a formalist obsessed with the way buildings look at the expense of how they work. Instead, she personifies a central theme of the biennial: It‘s time for architects to expand their role, or ‘agency,’ to address such pressing problems as climate change and the wave of shootings that‘s wracking Chicago.”

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Polis Station Panel Discussion

November 17, 2015
Chicago Architecture Biennial
Chicago Cultural Center

Studio Gang convened a panel of community leaders, policing strategists, developers, and architects to discuss how design could help rebuild trust between citizens and police. Using the Chicago Architecture Biennial project Polis Station as a starting point, the panel discussed strategies, both spatial and social, that could repair relationships between police officers and the communities they serve.

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Fast Company — “Five Big Ideas From the Chicago Architecture Biennial”

Fast Company interviews Jeanne Gang about the Studio’s Chicago Architecture Biennial project, Polis Station.

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Curbed – “How Jeanne Gang’s Firm Designed a Better Police Station”

“As Gang explains, the people at her firm were, like everyone else, ‘outraged’ at seeing the results of deteriorating relations between communities and the police. So earlier this year, they decided to do something about it.”