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Gensler (Stone Soup Group)

Based in its Los Angeles office, Gensler’s Stone Soup Group is charged with instigating and shaping metropolitan change and transformation through opportunistic and prototype-driven design thinking at a range of increments and scales. Its work is linked not by familiar tropes or stylistic similarity, but rather by a radical pragmatism in design approach that seeks to yield unexpected formal outcomes through detailed, sometimes counterintuitive, analysis of the circumstantial facts of a given problem as these facts interface with the effects of larger territorial or even global change. Often, its work centers on under-resourced communities—especially those vulnerable to climate, economic, and social shocks (disruptive events) and stressors (progressive shifts). The group’s projects range from new models of permanent supportive housing to infrastructure and urban development plans, community “oases” (resilience hubs), and other new forms of public space such as those tied to digital life. These testbeds span from South L.A. to Sunset Boulevard; from Haiti to Cameroon; and Wuhan to northern New Zealand. Rather than waiting for projects to present themselves, the Stone Soup Group creates them—modeling itself more on the idea of the architect-as-producer than as director-auteur. The group begins its work much further upstream from the conventional design-then-build paradigm, acting as an incubator. This means looking first not to a client, but rather scouting for confluences of motives, means, and opportunities that the group encounters in the course of its ongoing, research-based design. These often emerge from parallel and circumstantial conversations with collaborators and experts from other disciplines that stretch the periphery of the design field. Eventually, these become a hypothesis or design proposition—importantly serving as the stone (pretext) required to make the soup (project)—in which participants see the start of a solution to a problem that they have an investment in solving.

AIR SUPPORT: A Resilience Hub for Vulnerable Communities

Venue: Bronzeville Artist Lofts

Increasingly frequent extreme weather events create urban heat islands, rising utility bills, and power outages as our aging, fossil-fuel-powered infrastructure attempts to cope with the new normal. In cities, these disasters disproportionately affect under-resourced communities—often those of color. Air Support addresses longstanding, urban environmental inequities through the creation of a community oasis or resilience hub: a place of refuge to ride out the damage, displacement, and related trauma caused by severe climate events. It is also designed to provide a place of enjoyment and access to resources on more typical days—serving as a pre-emergency reservoir of resources such as food, micro-mobility hub, wellness, and educational or technological services.

Air Support consists of an off-the-shelf storage matrix intended to house basic needs (first aid supplies, water, food, bedding, etc.) and a renewable-powered community battery. This battery will provide neighborhood safety lighting and charging capabilities for WiFi, electronic devices, and last-mile vehicles during non-emergency periods. During outages and spans of extreme heat or cold, the battery powers a unit that ventilates, heats, or cools the air inside an air-inflated membrane that can be deployed as a temporary shelter. When not in use, the components are stored in a portable shipping container that doubles as an outdoor shading device. In both good times and challenging ones, Air Support’s striking shape and color will make it a community beacon.

Air Support is designed as a prototype, capable of and intended to be brought to scale. Accordingly, it is displayed here as it is being deployed in, and adapted to, four cities subject to distinct climate threats: Chicago (heat/cold); Los Angeles (earthquakes, fires, heat/drought); Houston (heat, floods/torrential rain); and Newark (storm surges, torrential rain). Community-based organizations will serve as critical partners to identifying locations and activating these hubs. In Chicago, the prototype is proposed as a collaborative endeavor, to be refined in partnership with the Englewood community on the city’s South Side. The prototype hopefully will be operated and maintained on a vacant lot belonging to Antioch Baptist Church for the benefit of the community’s most vulnerable neighbors—not just during extreme weather but to provide everyday services.

Past Works

Rollout, Autonomous Vehicle Exhibition Pavilion

SWITCH!street furniture prototype

Urban Awning Housing

Urban Awning Housing