Aqua Tower, Chicago

Currently under construction is Studio Gang’s Aqua Tower in Chicago.

water01

As you can see, each floor has a cantilevered floor plate undulating across the surface of the building.  As the plate approaches the curtain wall it makes the building appear to pool like water.  So while the the spatial morphology of the building is still the usual, developer-driven series of flat floor plates, the building’s surface achieves a curving skin appearance without the use of curving the panel surfaces themselves.  This is really rather remarkable, although a bit of a one-trick pony.

I think the aspect that most intrigues me about this building is its design process.  Clearly in a day of hand-drawn elevations or even crude computer models, this design solution would not have seemed so interesting.  With the explosion of powerful modeling and rendering techniques, including especially the ability to render reflections and shadows with accuracy and nuance, this kind of design can be presented to a client with all the ‘reality’ of the final building.  However, for as sensuous as the building may look in its overall form, it is strangely dematerialized.  The disjunctive appearance of an almost aqueous surface as the vertical face of the building clearly opposes an architectonic understanding of the building as a construction bound by gravity.  Even the almost anti-gravity projects of Constructivism were clearly operating in the realm of gravity, even if defying it.  This tower is more of a painting, a decorated surface, albeit a beautiful one, with changing light and reflections.

It may in fact be a really great expression of its place, being very close to the shore of Lake Michigan, which, through much of the year, shimmers off the edge of Chicago, blurring the eastern horizon with a indeterminate edge of water and sky.  And at the same time, the building is a clear, relentless division of architectural space, ignoring interior function and space, much like the early steel framed towers of LeBaron Jenny, the Chicago window, and the dauntless grid of the Loop itself.  If Chicagoans had no problem with reversing the flow of the Chicago River to better drain the city, why not turn the river up into a building?

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