Aqua Tower - Inspired Inventiveness and Vision in Chicago

26 June 2010

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Destined to be one of the most instantly recognized buildings in the world the Aqua Tower in Chicago has the simplest of ideas behind it.  The idea for the tower came from the eroded rocks that can be found around the Great Lakes.

The project is the work of Studio Gang Architects, led by its principal and founder Jeanne Gang and as such is the largest project to be given to a practice led by a woman.  It towers 82 storeys high and is used for both residential and business purposes.

The name reflects the nautical theme of the other buildings in the locality and you can see why, with the wave like balconies that give the tower an organic, almost living ambience.  The terraces on the balconies are refined so that solar shading is maximized.  Sustainability is a hugely important part of the structure, with energy efficient lighting and rainwater collection systems. 

The tower also boasts the largest green roof in the city of Chicago but it was not without its challenges, most of them lying beneath.  The building is directly above a ComEd substation which feeds the downtown district.  Furthermore, there were old freight tunnels which ran under the site and these had to be removed of debris before being grouted solid.


When you look at the building from the sidewalk its fluid form really does give you impression of the rock formations found around nearby Lake Michigan.  It is almost as if Gaudi has been reincarnated and has set the skyline of Chicago as his next city wide project, with the Aqua being the first of his triumphs (but of course the praise must go to Gang and her team, daydreaming aside).

Skyscrapers are often seen to be an expression of, to put it politely, male prowess and there has always been a certain my skyscraper is taller than yours not so friendly competition.  Perhaps the elegance and fluidity of this design is due to the fact that Gang is a woman – as is at least half of the staff on her team.

What is more, the complex facade has made the building much safer for our feathered friends.  Birds tend not to see sheer glass and the walls of many a skyscraper are adorned with the somewhat splattered corpses of birds.  As they pick up on irregularities of structure then the building’s very design makes it safer for them and easier to avoid a collision.

It could even, in its spare but complex beauty be seen as a kind of bird’s nest itself.  A thoroughly twenty first century nesting ground for high living urbanites.


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