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The Forgotten History Of Chicago Supertalls: Everything You Need To Know About Aqua Tower

Few Chicago skyscraper projects in recent years lived up to the hype like Aqua. It revitalized Magellan Development's fortunes in Lakeshore East and signaled renewed interest in the submarket.

Radisson Blu Aqua, Chicago

Today in our ongoing series on the history of Chicago skyscrapers we move a couple of blocks east of Aon Center and look at the newest crown jewel in the downtown skyline.

1. It Made Jeanne Gang A Starchitect


Jeanne Gang (left, with site design group's Ernie Wong and HDR's Beth Zacherle) was already highly respected for her bold yet practical designs when Magellan Development's Jim Lowenberg came calling. Jim asked Gang if she was interested in designing the skyscraper project he was working on in Lakeshore East. The $300M, 82-story Aqua wound up being the tallest skyscraper designed by a woman at the time, and the largest skyscraper project awarded to an American architecture firm headed by a woman.

Aqua made Gang a superstar. She later won a MacArthur Foundation genius grant for her overall body of work, and the relationship between Studio Gang and Magellan proved so fruitful the two are now teaming up on the under-construction Vista Tower, which will be Chicago's third-tallest building.

2. Its Design Became An Instant Classic


Serious architecture buffs can take decades before declaring a building's design iconic. But they were tripping over each other to shower praise on Gang's design for Aqua almost immediately after its 2009 opening. The building's undulating façade was intended to resemble waves. But it also serves a few practical purposes. The waves provide an extended footprint for tenants of Aqua's hotel and apartments and shade from the sun and dampen wind gusts below. And they allow tenants on the balconies to peer down at their neighbors, as well as view city landmarks with unencumbered sight lines. Emporis awarded Aqua with its 2009 Skyscraper of the Year Award.

3. It's A Model Of Sustainable Design


Gang has always incorporated sustainability into her designs, but it was a new frontier for Magellan. Aqua was the developer's first project targeting LEED certification and the firm didn't decide to attempt it until well into its construction.

So how did Magellan accomplish this? All of the building's rebar was recycled. It has a 92 Walk Score rating. Aqua uses five different types of glass to reduce "burn zones" in the parts of the building where the sun beats down on it the most. But the most striking component has to be Aqua's 80k SF vegetated roof. Encompassing nearly all of the third-floor roof, the plants are native vegetation, reducing the need for water, and are hydrated through drip irrigation. Aqua was awarded LEED Silver certification in 2013.

Magellan's Jim Losik is speaking at BMAC Midwest Nov. 30—find him there to learn more secrets about Aqua.