Chicks With Bricks: The World’s Tallest Female-Designed Skyscraper

Chicago’s 82-story Aqua Tower is also a milestone for architectural flamboyance that improves the bottom line.

aqua tower

A new icon has risen in Chicago: Studio Gang Architects have completed major construction on the 82-story Aqua tower. It’s already being hailed as a masterwork for the young firm, which previously has made it’s name on excellent, small-scale buildings. And, as the Chicago Tribune reports, it’s a milestone for women in architecture, the tallest building designed by a female-owned firm, and the first edifice by Chicago’s Jeanne Gang, 45, of Studio Gang Architects. The story continues:


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.

None of this would matter without Gang’s singular design, whose three chief components are hotel space (for now, without an occupant) on floors 4 through 18, apartments on floors 19 through 52 and condominiums from floors 53 to 81. There are also shops, parking and townhouses.

Essentially, then, Aqua is a residential skyscraper, a place to live (or sleep) rather than a place to work. And it fully takes advantage of the aesthetic freedom afforded by that identity, which means it doesn’t have to be tidy and buttoned-down, like a corporate headquarters.

All that came at a relatively cheap price: The tower’s signature feature are the undulating balconies, which because of their curving, bulging shapes, cantilever anywhere from 2 to 12 feet outwards, thus affording city views that would otherwise have been impossible to appreciate. They cost a scant 1.5% of the building’s $325 million construction cost.

aqua tower

And that, above all else, makes Studio Gang worth watching: Architectural flamboyance at a reasonable price is always a rarity; flamboyance that increases the bottom line is almost unheard of.

Remarkably, the tower also has PETA’s stamp of approval.

Read more at The Chicago Tribune; check out more pictures at Design Boom; See Jeanne Gang’s 30 Second MBA.

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.