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July 21, 2010

photo courtesy of Steve Hall, Hedrich Blessing

225 N. Columbus Dr.

Aqua is a topographical map of a city far hillier than Chicago. It’s the rippling waves of nearby Lake Michigan. It’s a landscape of undulating sand dunes and it is folds of fabric blowing in the wind. Whatever Aqua is to you, it’s more than just another skyscraper dotting Chicago’s skyline to any of us.

But what is Aqua to its now famous architect, Jeanne Gang? She says that her inspiration for the tower came from the layered topography of limestone outcroppings along the Great Lakes. Jeanne Gang is the principal architect and founder of the firm Studio Gang which has recently become the subject of great international acclaim. Headlining all of the papers is the fact that at 82 stories Aqua is the tallest building in the world designed by a female-owned architecture firm. Though this may be true, Aqua’s stardom really has little to do with the sex of its designer. Its design is innovative both visually and conceptually.

Aqua is in keeping with the trend of many contemporary buildings in its existence being dependent on modern computer technology. The balconies forming the building’s wave-like contours were made possible through the use of a surveying tripod with a built-in computer. This device allowed the contractors to bend the supporting steel shell to the exact specifications of Gang’s design. But the form of many other new similarly computer-dependent buildings lack in purpose. Form is all too often seen separate from function. However the function of Aqua’s curves is twofold. The irregular placement of balconies provides shade for the building’s occupants and helps in cooling the interiors. And the building’s contours effectively break-up and dissipate the wind – wind being a key problem in skyscraper design. Gang’s contours so successfully solve the worrisome wind problem that Aqua lacks a costly device typically found at the top of most skyscrapers: a “tuned mass damper” or a weight of hundreds of tons that stabilizes a building from the force of wind. How was it that Gang came up with such an ingenious solution to an ever-present obstacle? A problem-solver at heart, Gang’s original career plan was to be an engineer.

CNS 2010

But in actuality she’s an architect with a keen understanding of design. The plasticity of Aqua’s façade with its hills and valleys makes Gang’s sensitivity to design obvious. Every bulge was carefully considered. Gang’s team conducted multiple studies of the building’s site lines using both physical and computer models. That’s why regardless of where you may be approaching Aqua from, it always looks good.


Completed in 2009, Aqua is a mixed-use building containing commercial spaces, a hotel, apartments and condos. Have a look inside by visiting their website. And to see all of the other projects Studio Gang is working on across the globe here’s their website.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Nye Stevens permalink
    July 21, 2010 9:53 am

    What a fantastic building! I’m fascinated to learn more about it. Your photos are well taken and presumably well chosen. Keep up your great work….


  1. Aqua at 225 N. Columbus | Downtown Chicago
  2. The Aqua | Downtown Chicago

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