When Jeanne Gang talks green architecture, she means more than solar panels and LEED certifications. She means using the sun's angles to carve the shape of a building like Aqua, her 2010 addition to the Chicago skyline that uses cascading waves of concrete balconies to create a natural shading system for each of its 82 stories. She means "projects that involve the coexistence of human populations and wildlife," such as the recently completed Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo. The boardwalk and bent-wood pavilion were built to give Chicagoans a stroll unlike any other in the Windy City, around a pond that was so well restored from ecological death that it now functions as a habitat for local fauna. "By seeing wild-life that can coexist in urban settings, people will learn to appreciate it," Gang says.
Owner, Estudio Teddy Cruz
La Jolla, California
Teddy Cruz likes architecture that tells a good story. When some teens wanted to build San Diego's first skate park in 1999, the police shut them down. So, says Cruz, "the teenagers organized and went through a complex process, gaining control of the site." The result, Washington Street Skatepark, became a way to collectively rethink development. Cruz brings intelligent architecture to disadvantaged communities. "I'm interested in the construction of community," Cruz says. "How does one design the interface between people, programs, and spaces?" His breakthrough housing projects in downtrodden places, including several neighborhoods near the San Diego-Tijuana border, emphasize "the construction of synergies, allowing people to move to the next level in terms of jobs and forming communities."
-RACHEL Z. ARNDT
Executive Creative Director, Google Creative Lab
"Whenever we have a big problem to solve at the Creative Lab," says Google's Robert Wong, "we like to head off to a neighborhood bar, grab a grilled cheese sandwich and some chunky fries, and go at it." Wong's problems are big by definition: Tasked with designing novel ways to promote the search giant, he's touting the capabilities of the whole darn Internet. The results have been surprisingly fun, like the Arcade Fire video "The Wilderness Downtown." Combining HTML5 and Google Chrome, Wong's crew designed a music video whose visuals are personalized to each viewer--if the viewer uses Google Chrome. "When we built Chrome, it was like we built the autobahn, but there were no Ferraris or Porsches," Wong says. Many of the lab's projects have a similar soft sell, to show that "the best search results don't show up on a web page--they show up in people's lives." -RACHEL Z. ARNDT
Cofounder, Massive Health
"Most kids got carried around in strollers," says Aza Raskin. "I got carried around in an original Mac carrying case." It's no coincidence, then, that the 27-year-old San Francisco dweller--and son of Jef, who helped invent the first Macintosh--has built a reputation designing interfaces at Mozilla and elsewhere that, like Apple's, are fundamentally human. After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Raskin helped create a site that presented crowdsourced data as an interactive map of rescue efforts. Raskin jokes that he has "idea ADD"; his nascent startup, Massive Health, will design consumer health-care products such as (hypothetically) a "chew-o-meter" that fastens to users' teeth and offers insights about what they're eating. "Good design is not about thinking outside the box," he says. "It's about finding the right box to think inside." -DAN MACSAI
Founder, Local Projects
"There's no story quite like the one you get when you turn on a mic or camera and just let someone talk," says Jake Barton. As head of multimedia design firm Local Projects, the 38-year-old has spent more than a decade dreaming up meaningful ways to collect and share the wisdom of crowds--building the Change By Us social network, for instance, which helps New Yorkers collaborate on city projects (and is expanding to Philadelphia, Seattle, and San Jose). For the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, Barton presents the tragedy "through the eyes of people who experienced it." He tapped the web to gather 9/11 photos, stories, and video from all over the world, which is broadcast throughout the exhibition. Visitors, in turn, are asked to record their own reflections. "Memorials can be about more than memory," he says. -DAN MACSAI