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Ripple makes waves in skyscraper design

26 October 2011 No Comment

Skyscraper….ripples…curved metal….you could be forgiven for thinking that architect Frank Gehry has decided to put a new landmark on the Chicago skyline, taking the familiar crumpled, undulating steel blueprint of his ‘New York’ skyscraper and giving it a stateside stamp.

But the Aqua Tower is the work of architect Jeanne Gang – and it’s the tallest in the world to be designed by a woman.


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The water-themed, Lake Michigan-inspired scraper stands out amongst its rigid, angular neighbours thanks to the distinctive ripples stretching over 80-storeys skywards. These gentle waves may seem random to the untrained eye but they’re far from it.

Complex ripple design isn’t just for show


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Each ripple is actually a floor stretched out beyond the walls to create a balcony for the tower’s residents. But for the necessary irregular effect, each one is a unique shape and size – resulting in vast differences in balcony size. Some stretch outwards by as much as 12 foot, others by much less.


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But it’s not just residents who get to enjoy such an iconic building, it’s the first high-rise in Chicago to combine condos, rentals, hotel rooms and retail in a single skyscraper!

And it’s not only the design that’s state-of-the-art, so are the facilities, which include multiple pools, a running track, outdoor grill fire pits, luxury spa, private party suites, media room with cinema-style seating and a games area.

Environment playing a central role in the core design of the building

The lush roof garden atop the tower is one of the largest, if not the biggest, in the whole of Chicago, with the environment playing a central role in the core design of the building, in keeping with Jeanne Gang’s focus on green building and sustainable design.

The complex ripple design isn’t just for show – the irregular pattern apparently also helps birds to avoid the building, whilst each balcony’s overhang doubles as solar shading and protects the tower from high wind speeds.


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Award winning design

So cool and refreshing is the design of the Aqua tower that it recently won the 2011 Prix d’Excellence International Design Award, given to projects which show excellence at every stage of their creation. It’s yet another award to add to its impressive list of gongs, which include:

  • the Distinguished Building Award from the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects,
  • 2009 Emporis International Skyscraper of the Year,
  • and 2008 American Architecture Award from The Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design.

Architect Jeann Gang


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Jeanne Gang herself is also half-a-million dollars richer, having won one of this year’s MacArthur Foundation Genius Grants for her inspiring work and ability to challenge the

‘aesthetic and technical possibilities of the art form’.

Making waves in the architecture world?

So there’s no doubt this undulating trend is making waves in the architecture world. But which do you like best? Does Aqua quench your thirst for novel skyscraper design, or will you be spreading the news about Gehry’s New York?

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