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Architect Jeanne Gang Wins MacArthur Genius Grant

Last night’s announcement of the MacArthur Foundation’s yearly $500,000 “genius” grants brought with it a pleasant surprise: for the first time in more than a decade an architect has made the coveted list. (Samuel Mockbee, the founder of Auburn University’s Rural Studio, was honored back in 2000.) Find out more about Jeanne Gang, the 47-year-old founder of Studio Gang Architects, and view a list of this year’s other cultural “geniuses,” after the jump.

Best known for her work on Chicago’s 82-story Aqua Tower (pictured above) — aka the tallest building in the world designed by a woman — Gang, the MacArthur Foundation believes, is “setting a new industry standard through her effective synthesis of conventional materials, striking composition, and ecologically sustainable technology.” In other words, she is a pragmatic visionary who believes in function as well as form; the polar opposite of the world’s most famous female architect, Zaha Hadid. As Gang told The New Yorker back in 2010, “You know, a lot of architects get into fetishized objects. But when you can design anything you want without actually having to make it, you do wild things that can’t work. And that’s not what I want to do.” It’s probably also worth noting that the rippling, sustainable building was her first high-rise structure. Not too shabby, eh?

Learn more about Gang in the clip below.

Among this year’s other cultural geniuses: poet Kay Ryan, poet and translator A.E. Stallings, Radiolab host and producer Jad Abumrad, choral conductor and composer Francisco Nunez, jazz percussionist and composer Dafnis Prieto, classical cellist Alisa Weilerstein, and writer Peter Hessler.

Check out the full list of 2011 fellows on the MacArthur Foundation website.