Aqua, the spectacular new Chicago skyscraper with the sensuous, undulating balconies, is the pearl of the long-running, now-ending Chicago building boom, a design that is as fresh conceptually as it is visually.

A skyscraper typically consists of repetitive, right-angled parts, a money-saving device that frequently produces aesthetic monotony. But in this defiantly non-Euclidian high-rise, almost nothing seems to repeat.

Its white, wafer-thin balconies bulge outward, each slightly different from the other. They race around corners and shoot upward in fantastic, voluptuous stacks. This is a new vision of verticality, and it makes Aqua one of Chicago’s boldest — and best — skyscrapers in years.

Located just north of Millennium Park at 225 N. Columbus Drive, the 82-story tower is still in the finishing stages, so it is impossible to fully assess whether its function is as successful as its form. Nonetheless, it can be said that Aqua is remarkable on several counts.

It is the tallest building designed by a female-owned architectural firm and the first skyscraper from Chicago’s Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects, who is only 45 years old. Aqua also is a real estate miracle: Its financing documents were signed in late August 2007 — just before the credit crunch hit it. Had the tower been delayed by 60 to 90 days, says the building’s architect-of-record and co-developer, Jim Loewenberg, it might never have been built.


Blair Kamin
Chicago Tribune