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Amazing Aqua Skyscraper Shows Aquatic Architecture As Inspiration for Luxury Design

Posted by on Friday, January 17th, 2014

There’s a certain sense of joyous contradiction to the Chicago lakefront. The city was built rapidly on an intense capitalistic ethos – it sprung from a swamp to a major metropolis in a generation, burned down, and was built up just as quickly. But despite it being a monument to trade- a place the Nelson Algren, in what is probably the best piece of writing on any city, called “a city on the make” – it has a sentimental side, and that’s reflected in its lakefront: miles and miles of parks and paths unbroken in the spot where the land meets the inland sea. This would be the most valuable real estate in the city, but while other Great Lakes cities built right up to the water’s edge, in Chicago, it is left for the public.

The contradiction has always been prevalent in the skyline, as well. While there is no doubt that the Chicago skyline is one of the best in the world, it stood in contrast to the lake: it was a skyline of muscle and steel, as hard and cold as the lake, but with none of her grace. That’s started to change, as most of the new skyscrapers have been built with blue and green glass. The apotheosis of this trend is the first skyscraper to really incorporate the idea of Chicago as a city built by water – the Aqua skyscraper by Jeanne Gang.

Aqua skyscraper in Chicago

The Aqua skyscraper ripples into a blue sky.
Image by gizmag.com

The tallest building in America designed by a woman, Aqua is a dramatic and daring addition to the skyline. While its core is the normal steel and glass, its heart is the series of dramatic balconies that highlight each floor. The balconies, which total seven miles, are all of different length and shape, jutting at irregular curves, with large blank spots at odd intervals across the building. Standing on them, they don’t seem any different- just maybe a weird shape for a balcony. But looking at the building gives the impression of waves rippling across a skyblue sea.

It never looks the same, and creates the hypnotic illusion of movement. It has both power and grace, and reminds you that Chicago wasn’t built on accident – it was created because it is the lowest point of the Great Lakes, a city built with the west in mind. It was built because of water, and Aqua fully recognizes that. It has a luxury hotel, retail space, office space, and amazing living quarters, but none of that is recognizable from the outside- it just looks like the lake.

Aqua skyscraper

An actual picture of the building, from below.
Image by skylinearchitecture.files.wordpress

This building could be inspirational for architects and other designers. There is really no limit to our fascination with water – it, along with fire, is one of the only two things at which man sits and stares that isn’t a modern, glowing box.  A building can be alive, and a public place can move with the sensuous grace of the sea. I think this is a way forward for our cities. It brings us back to nature, and in a very real way makes dozens of stories and thousands of tons of concrete and steel and wires more human.  We relate to it more.

If more architecture could work on a human level like this, if they brought in the rhythms of nature, cities would be dramatically more pleasant.  Leaving the park wouldn’t feel like falling from a state of grace, wouldn’t be as dramatic a shift into the world of squawking horns and constant business. At the risk of sounding utopian, it would help to stave off those dyspeptic views of horrible city life we see in movies set in the near-future.

Aqua in the city

Can you imagine if all buildings looked as alive as this one?
Image from smartplanet.com

I love cities, Chicago in particular. I love that the lakefront is open to the public from one end to the other. I love that I can play softball while watching sailboats go by. And I do love the architecture. But I think that as we continue to build, we can take more and more cues from nature. Luxury and the outdoors are not antithetical. Aqua shows that, when it comes to design, water is the wave of the future.

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