The Aqua tower cover page

Designed by Studio Gang, the Aqua tower clambers up over 82 stories or 876 feet and nurtures a community on its raw facade. Though it combines multi fold functions of hotels, offices, rental apartments, condominiums, and parking, it boosts interactions between the people and urban cities. In addition, the design for Aqua tower analyses human connections to the outdoor. Thus, varying floor slabs across the elevation assist design and boost these interactions to provide views, sunlight, and function.

The raw facade of the Aqua tower
A nautical skyscraper that shapes a community on its facade (© Kevin Kretschmar)

Fact-File of the Aqua tower:

  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Status: Built 2010
  • Client: Magellan Development Group LLC
  • Type: Office, Residential.
  • Size: 1.9 million square foot
  • Cost: US $ 300 million
  • Sustainability: Certified LEED NC
  • Floor area: 1,990,635 sq.ft
  • Architect: Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects.
Sight lines between neighboring terraces encourage interaction (© Steve Hall)

Also read related case study: The Interlace in Singapore by Ole Scheeren


Varying, dis-alike floor plates adjust over the tower’s elevation to modulate it perfectly. Furthermore, apart from just a superficial cover, these prove crucial to building construction. Besides curvature, these slabs cantilever away from the face and outer column line. Thus, it is independent of its back-span and accurate columns. In addition to views, solar-shading, apartment size, form, and structure, accessibility, cost, and construction methods contributed to the final design.

The concept sketch of the Aqua tower
The concept sketch that modeled the Aqua tower (© Inhabitat)

The design process of the Aqua tower:

Though the process exploits opportunities, it encourages large, outdoor terraces with oblique views for abode. Apart from outdoor access, it facilitates a relationship between occupants. Extending interior slabs provide solar shading for the wall and, thus, a clear low e glass remained the first choice. Reflective pools further alleviated solar exposure by polishing the glazing. The form remains sculptural when viewed at an angle and terminates to a slender cuboid. The tower includes 14 levels of hotels, 40 levels of rental apartments, and 27 levels of condominiums that reach about 876 feet. Besides this, mixed-use continues at podium buildings including, residential lobbies, retail stores, restaurants, ballrooms, and commercial spaces.

Also read related case study: Star Apartments by Michael Maltzan Provided Homes For 102 Homeless

The structural system of the Aqua tower
The structural dis configuration of the Aqua tower (©Mgs architecture)

For Aqua, architects employed a different assembling system. Building columns support a load of steel trusses and wet concrete directly, and hence, floor slabs are devoid of excess loading. Thus, the design subjects to more assertion.

The wavy floor slabs:

Architecture, fused with wonders in structural engineering, makes way for the wavy slab edges of the Aqua tower. To provide various views and vistas for each block, it needed a unique design. It required a cantilever as large as 12 feet. To achieve this feat, architects used a multi functional column arrangement that answered requirements with techniques. Though the aqua tower uses a larger column spacing of about 28 feet, it neutralizes the forces at bays with larger column sizes. 30′ X 50′ columns support the 80 floors of weight.

Bracing against the wind:

Aqua tower fuses traditional concrete walls with outrigger and belt walls and thus, manages movement. Two shear walls and a central concrete core run from the tower’s foundation right to the roof. Frequently placed outrigger walls help structure columns to manage sway and distribute the wind load. Additionally, the curvilinear slab edges bifurcate the wind flow and thus, help reduce the building stresses.

Also read related article: Re-Coding Smart Building in Damascus, Syria by Re parametrize Studio

Foundation system of the Aqua tower:

Engineers erected about 100-foot deep rock caissons that bear pressures of about 500ksf. Furthermore, these varying diameter (5-10 feet) caissons, constructed using 9000-psi concrete, went about 6 feet down, touching the rock beneath. Osterberg load test calculated the rock carrying capacity of the caissons to establish safety margins in the tower’s foundation design.

The terraces of the Aqua tower.
The inviting yet dynamic open terraces of the Aqua tower (©Word Press)

Traffic considerations:

Besides serving varied users and residents, Aqua tower’s canopy walks guide visitors to the main entrance while providing interactions with Chicago’s downtown areas and lakefronts. With the help of an underground pedestrian system, the tower also connects users to restaurants, retail, cultural zones, and workplaces. Additionally, garage exits of the Aqua reduce pedestrian congestion. Furthermore, to decrease traffic, levels at different access points sync in with the user and functionality.

The outdoor terraces:

The outdoor terraces have a knack for a cantilever of about 4m and a depth of 23m. They thin out eventually towards the edge to help drain off the water quickly. A computerized civil engineering and surveying software program assisted by digital CAD files for input helped coordinate the construction of each unique slab. After the concrete had steel, steel form work was removed and reshaped as per the contours. Consequently, a tower, contextual to its site, that allowed residents to stay in touch with the city emerged. Hand-in-hand intervention of the architect and the builder helped shape the floor slabs without adjusting the construction timetable.

The 80th floor Aqua unit (©Curbed Chicago)


Equally important are the low emissivity coatings on glasses that selectively filter out glare to increase energy efficiency. Glass on the east and the south facade remain reflective. Glass fittings at the west have tinted coatings. In particular, the Aqua tower uses six varied glasses, clear, tinted, reflective, spandrel, fitting and translucent. The orientation and purpose of the interior space define their placement. Inside the units, architects used recyclable materials like bamboo for floors, water-reducing faucets, and shower heads, plus energy-star-rated appliances.

Also read related article: Top 5 Examples of Sustainability in modern architecture forms in the world

The Green Roof of the Aqua tower:

Not only does the 80,000 sq. feet roof provide an Eco-friendly setting, but it reduces the building’s interior temperature and cooling requirements in summer. Additionally, native and non-native vegetation of evergreen trees, shrubs, grasses offer great blooms and colors within the garden. Furthermore, Aqua’s roof deck blends in amenities with its topography. For example, the Shore Club, with its large living deck, includes gardens, gazebos, pools, fire pits, and grills. Indoors, a 35,000square foot amenity floor, houses a fitness center, lap pools, sauna, steam, a massage room, sky garden lounges, and concierge services.


Aqua tower lends out its features as a hilly topography to be an element of hills, valleys, and pools. It is also the proud recipient of the Great Places, AIA Illinois, 2018, The International high rise award finalist, and the Deutsches Architekturmuseum in 2010. Apart from that, it has won the Honor award for the Distinguished Building, AIA Chicago in 2010, the Skyscraper of the year from Emporis, 2009, the Proggy Award from PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in 2009, and the American Architecture Award, Chicago Athenaeum in 2008.

Don’t miss the latest case study!

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Discover more from archEstudy

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

Leave a Reply