Reverse Effect: New Book Looks at Renewing Chicago’s Waterways

New book from renowned architect Jeanne Gang highlights creative solutions to water issues in collaboration with NRDC

CHICAGO (October 26, 2011) – In her first major public project since being minted a MacArthur Genius, architect Jeanne Gang is taking a swing at Asian carp and Chicago’s complex relationship with its river in a visionary new book. Reverse Effect: Renewing Chicago’s Waterways is the result of a year-long collaboration with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that began by looking at the problem of invasive species, but evolved into call for a revolutionary green re-envisioning of Chicago’s troubled waterways and a roadmap for the nation’s river renaissance.

“Rather than seeking to control nature with technology, we will discover instead that in the 21st century, nature becomes technology...” says Gang in the book's final essay. “Can Chicago be the city that sets this new paradigm by transforming its waterways once again?”

In 2010, NRDC released a report focused on the twin goals of blocking invasive species and the need to clean up the Chicago River. Entitled “Re-Envisioning the Chicago River,” the report proposed physical barriers to restore the natural separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds to rebuff the movement of Asian carp while also dealing with the region’s crumbling water infrastructure and the flooding problems created by its combined sewer overflows with a heavy emphasis on green infrastructure (the use of natural systems to collect, hold and filter rainwater).

NRDC’s report initiated Studio Gang’s investigation into how dividing these waters could connect and recharge the surrounding communities, particularly along the Chicago River’s South Branch near the Pilsen and Bridgeport neighborhoods. These questions became the basis of a studio course Gang taught at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design in spring 2011. The exciting urban potential of her students’ work inspired the creation of Reverse Effect, with student projects augmented by engaging essays and interviews from the people who work on, use and think about the river every day to give a complete picture of the waterways’ current state and potential for spawning a green technology revolution to redevelop America’s rivers and cities.

By illuminating the river’s long history of manipulations and reinventions, Reverse Effect is meant to be a tool that can empower a new generation of Chicagoans—from architects and designers, to policymakers, advocates, and community members—to re-imagine and reshape its future. Engagingly written and designed, the book is a primer for anyone interested in understanding the nested issues that have plagued the waterway and the sorts of big picture, innovative solutions that could not only renew the river, but also the world-class City that has grown around its banks.

“It was a unique pleasure to have been involved in this project,” says Henry Henderson, NRDC Midwest Program Director and the first Commissioner of the Environment for the City of Chicago. “Jeanne’s understanding of how to inject green infrastructure into the built environment really breaks through some of the roadblocks that get in the way of people understanding these issues. She makes truly ground breaking design approaches and addressing engineering challenges easy for everyone to understand. The book is quite an achievement in its vision and the elegance of the solutions it proposes.”

Reverse Effect Roll-out Events:

  • The book will be available for the first time at a November 3 celebration featuring a one-time only performance by the Second City of Carpocalypse!, an original sketch about the invasive carp crisis. More information available at
  • On November 17 Gang and Henderson will be featured at a free event moderated by WBEZ’s Steve Edwards to be held at the Chicago Public Library's Harold Washington Library Center. More information available at

About the Author

Jeanne Gang, FAIA, a 2011 MacArthur Fellow, leads Studio Gang Architects, a collective of architects, designers, and thinkers whose projects address pressing contemporary issues, focusing on cities, ecologies, materials, and technologies. Known for pursuing a future where the urban and natural worlds interweave, Jeanne’s work has been honored and exhibited widely, most notably at the International Venice Biennale, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and the Art Institute of Chicago.

About NRDC

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international environmental advocacy organization that uses law, science, and the support of 1.3 million members and online activists to protect the planet’s natural resources and to ensure a safe and healthy environment for all living things. Locally, nationally, and internationally, NRDC’s work is broad, successful, and solutions-oriented. In January 2007, NRDC brought its hard-hitting environmental advocacy to the Midwest. Under the leadership of Henry L. Henderson, NRDC’s Midwest program is advancing the region’s vision of a clean and sustainable future with a major commitment to restoring the Chicago River and protecting the Great Lakes.

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