Sinuous

Chicago begets another innovative skyscraper with the opening of an intriguing structure by one of the city’s native daughters, Jeanne Gang.

It breaks with recent highrise traditions in many ways, some of which I had read about prior to visiting. I found some surprises. Aqua offers a unique (or at least rare) experience. At 82 stories, it happens to be the world’s tallest building by a woman. Really? I thought our glass ceiling would be higher by now. You go, Jeanne!

Most tall buildings are best perceived in elevation, at a respectable distance. Usually they have one significant façade, seldom two. From far away, Aqua stands as a fairly mundane rectangular stack of floors, especially when approaching from the sunless north side. Not even its flat top distinguishes it from other flat tops.

But as one approaches, the building’s undulations become richer. The foreshortened combination of floor plates is best experienced from a pedestrian’s perspective. To enjoy it fully, one must walk up close and all around it. Unlike other skyscrapers, Aqua has four different elevations, responding to four different orientations (of sun, wind, view). Its sinuous shapes make you want to touch it. It brings back the tactile qualities of its downtown great-grand ancestors like the Rookery and Carson Pirie Scott. Next time, Jeanne, bring that experience down to the sidewalk level, like great-grandpa did, will you?

I would stop there, but I can’t help commenting on its green claims. This building is LEED certified with planted roofs, sunshades, bird-friendly, etc. But the energy efficiency must be very compromised by the use of cantilevered concrete floors with no thermal breaks. These literally streak through the protective layers of the building to form the balconies, just like sticking a naked arm out of your coat into a blizzard.

But I’m sure Studio Gang can tackle that technical glitch on their next building….yes?

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