Art History Lab

The Aqua Tower: Chicago’s Iconic Wave of Sustainable Design

Chicago, the third-largest city in the United States, is known for its impressive skyline, filled with towering skyscrapers and historic structures. The city’s rich architectural history has made it a popular destination for architecture enthusiasts, tourists, and locals alike.

In this article, we’ll delve into the history and design of Chicago’s most famous buildings, including the Chicago Water Tower, one of the city’s most iconic structures. Chicago’s Legacy of Famous Architecture

Chicago’s architectural legacy dates back to the late 19th century when the city emerged as a hub of industrialization and became a center for commerce and trade.

Architects, engineers, and designers seized the opportunity to experiment with bold new ideas and technologies, resulting in some of the most iconic buildings in the world. Famous buildings such as the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower), the John Hancock Center, and the Tribune Tower are just a few of the many skyscrapers that adorn the city’s skyline.

These grand structures reflect the city’s spirit of innovation, progress, and ambition. Chicago’s architectural legacy is also defined by the works of famous architects such as Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, and William Le Baron Jenney.

These architects played pivotal roles in defining the city’s skyline and developing the “Chicago School” of architecture, characterized by the use of steel-frame construction, a preference for verticality, and ornate decoration. Appreciation and Interest in Chicago’s Buildings

Locals and tourists alike are drawn to the majesty and splendor of Chicago’s buildings.

The magnificence of the city’s skyline leaves a lasting impression on visitors, many of whom can’t help but marvel at the beauty and history embodied in the structures. Chicago’s architectural heritage is celebrated annually during the Chicago Architecture Biennial, a blockbuster event that brings together architects, designers, scholars, and enthusiasts from around the world.

The event features workshops, exhibitions, and tours that explore the city’s rich architectural history. Chicago’s buildings have also been featured in countless films, TV shows, and media campaigns, cementing the city’s reputation as a hub of architectural innovation and creativity.

Historical Background and Importance of the Chicago Water Tower

The Chicago Water Tower is one of the city’s most iconic structures and a symbol of its resilience and determination. The tower was built in 1869 and survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, a devastating blaze that consumed much of the city.

The tower was one of the few buildings that remained standing in the aftermath of the fire, making it a symbol of hope and perseverance to the city’s residents. The building served as a vital component of the city’s water supply system, drawing water from Lake Michigan and distributing it to the population.

The tower was instrumental in preventing the spread of illnesses such as cholera and typhoid, which were common in urban areas at the time. The Chicago Water Tower was designated as a Chicago Landmark in 1975 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Today, the building is a popular destination for architecture enthusiasts and tourists who come to admire its beauty and historical significance.

Design and Architecture of the Chicago Water Tower

The Chicago Water Tower, designed by William Warren Boyington, is an excellent example of Gothic Revival architecture. The building’s limestone exterior and intricate ornamentation pay homage to the Gothic cathedrals of Europe, giving the building a timeless, elegant quality.

The tower stands 182 feet tall and features a large central tower with four smaller turrets at each corner. The top of the tower is adorned with a steeply pitched roof and a detailed finial.

The building’s distinctive shape and architectural features make it a stand-out structure in the city’s skyline. The interior of the Chicago Water Tower has undergone several renovations over the years but still retains many of its original features, including the cast-iron water pipes that once supplied the city’s drinking water.

Today, the building houses a small gallery and gift shop, highlighting the beauty and historical significance of the structure. Conclusion:

In conclusion, Chicago’s architectural heritage is an essential part of the city’s identity.

From its towering skyscrapers to its historic landmarks, the city’s buildings are a testament to its resilience, creativity, and ambition. The Chicago Water Tower, in particular, is a symbol of hope and determination, reminding us of the city’s ability to overcome adversity.

We hope this article has inspired you to explore the many wonders of Chicago’s architecture and appreciate the splendor of its buildings.Chicago’s architectural heritage is a treasure trove of iconic buildings that reflect the city’s resilience, ambition, and creativity. The city is home to some of the world’s most famous structures, including the Tribune Tower and Wrigley Building.

These buildings reflect the city’s spirit of innovation, progress, and ambition, and have become symbols of Chicago’s architectural legacy.

The International Design Competition

The Tribune Tower, located on Michigan Avenue, is one of the most famous buildings in Chicago. The tower was designed in response to a competition launched by the Chicago Tribune newspaper in the early 1920s.

The competition was open to architects around the world, and the competition guidelines were simple but challenging. Architects were asked to design a tower that would reflect the “power, dignity, and aspirations of the newspaper.”

The competition received over 260 entries from around the world, including famous architects such as Walter Gropius, Eliel Saarinen, and Adolf Loos.

The designs ranged from the traditional to the avant-garde, with each proposal reflecting the architect’s individual vision and approach to architecture. The winning design, submitted by New York architects John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood, was a blend of Gothic, Romanesque, and Art Deco styles.

The tower’s distinctive features include the use of limestone, a 146-foot spire, and ornamental decorations that were inspired by famous buildings around the world. American vs.

European Approach to Architecture

The Tribune Tower’s design reflects a distinctly American approach to architecture, which emphasizes boldness, innovation, and a sense of confidence. In contrast, European architects tend to favor a more traditional, conservative approach to architecture, with an emphasis on Classical styles and a preference for height limitations.

The Tribune Tower’s design incorporates elements of both American and European architectural strategies, blending traditional styles with modern technologies. The building’s height and ornate decorations reflect the American spirit of innovation and progress, while its Gothic and Romanesque features evoke a sense of timelessness and tradition.

Location and Historical Context

The Wrigley Building, built in the early 1920s, is one of Chicago’s most famous landmarks. The building is located on Michigan Avenue, in the heart of the city’s bustling business district.

The Wrigley Building was commissioned by the Wrigley Company, the famous chewing gum manufacturer, as a new headquarters for the business. The building’s location, on a prominent spot along Michigan Avenue, was seen as a strategic move by the Wrigley Company to establish a strong presence in the city and attract new customers.

The Wrigley Building quickly became a popular destination for both locals and tourists, and its distinctive features and elegant design have made it a favorite among architecture enthusiasts.

Design and Features

The Wrigley Building’s design was inspired by French Renaissance architecture, with a focus on symmetry, proportion, and ornamental decorations. The building’s distinctive feature is the Giralda tower, which stands at 141 feet tall and is modeled after the Giralda tower in Seville, Spain.

The Wrigley Building’s exterior is made of terra cotta tiles, which were hand-crafted in France and transported to Chicago. The tiles were painted a light gray color, which gives the building a sense of elegance and grandeur.

The building’s clock, located on the south side of the tower, has become a beloved feature of the structure, with locals and tourists alike using it as a meeting spot or navigational aid. The interior of the Wrigley Building features a grand lobby, which is decorated with intricate mosaics, marble accents, and beautiful stained glass windows.

The lobby’s ceiling features a stunning mural that depicts scenes from the city’s history, including the Great Chicago Fire and the World’s Columbian Exposition. Conclusion:

Chicago’s rich architectural heritage is a testament to the city’s spirit of innovation, progress, and ambition.

The Tribune Tower and Wrigley Building are two of the city’s most iconic structures, each reflecting a unique blend of traditional and modern styles. These buildings are not only architectural marvels but also symbols of Chicago’s resilience, creativity, and determination.

We hope this article has inspired you to explore the many wonders of Chicago’s architecture and appreciate the beauty and history embodied in its buildings.Chicago’s skyline is a majestic display of architectural marvels that reflect the city’s past, present, and future. Among these iconic structures are the Chicago Board of Trade Building and the Merchandise Mart, each with its unique history, design, and significance.

In this article, we’ll delve into the historical background and architectural style of these buildings, exploring the beauty and history embodied in their structures.

Historical Background and Previous Structure

The Chicago Board of Trade Building, located in the heart of the city’s financial district, was built in 1930 and designed by the architecture firm, Holabird & Root. The site was previously home to another trading building, designed by William W.

Boyington of the Chicago Water Tower fame, which was destroyed in a fire in 1871. The original trading building, designed by Boyington, was an ornate, Gothic-style structure that reflected the architect’s preference for traditional styles and decorative ornamentation.

The new building, designed by Holabird & Root, was a departure from the traditional styles and embraced the Art Deco movement that was popular at the time.

Architectural Style and Unique Features

The Chicago Board of Trade Building is a remarkable example of Art Deco architecture, characterized by bold geometric shapes, stylized ornamentation, and a focus on modern technologies. The building’s exterior is adorned with beautiful stone carvings, which depict scenes from Chicago’s trading history.

One of the most distinctive features of the building is the Ceres sculpture, which stands at the top of the structure, holding a sheaf of wheat and symbolizing abundance and prosperity. The sculpture, which was designed by John H.

Storrs, is a beloved feature of the building and has become an iconic symbol of Chicago’s mercantile heritage. The building features a grand lobby, which is decorated with Art Deco embellishments, including polished granite floors and decorative bronze accents.

The lobby’s centerpiece is a stunning mural, which depicts the history of commerce in America, from the early trading days to the present.

Historical Significance and Original Purpose

The Merchandise Mart, located on the banks of the Chicago River, is one of the largest buildings in the world, with over 4 million square feet of space. The building was originally built in 1930 as a wholesale warehouse and showroom for the city’s many retail businesses.

The site was chosen for its location, which provided easy access to the city’s transportation infrastructure. The Merchandise Mart was an essential component of the city’s mercantile industry, providing a central location for wholesalers to showcase their products and conduct business.

The building’s size and scope were a testimony to the city’s ambition and determination to establish itself as a hub of commerce and trade.

Art Deco Design and Evolution

The Merchandise Mart, like the Chicago Board of Trade Building, is designed in the Art Deco style, with a focus on bold geometric shapes, stylized ornamentation, and a preference for modern materials such as terra cotta, limestone, and bronze. The exterior of the building is adorned with intricate bas-relief sculptures and other decorative motifs, which evoke a sense of elegance and grandeur.

The building’s interior has undergone several renovations over the years, reflecting changes in the city’s economy and the evolution of design trends. The Art Deco features have been preserved and updated to reflect modern sensibilities, with new materials and textures added to enhance the building’s visual appeal.

The Merchandise Mart remains a vital component of Chicago’s business landscape, with showrooms, offices, and event spaces serving as hubs of activity and innovation. The building’s enduring appeal reflects the city’s spirit of creativity, entrepreneurship, and vision.


In conclusion, the Chicago Board of Trade Building and the Merchandise Mart are two of the most significant buildings in Chicago’s storied architectural history. These buildings, with their unique styles and features, reflect the city’s spirit of innovation, progress, and ambition, and remain beloved symbols of the city’s enduring legacy.

We hope this article has inspired you to explore the many wonders of Chicago’s architecture and appreciate the beauty and history embodied in its structures.Chicago’s skyline is a beautiful tapestry of architectural diversity and innovation, with each building telling a unique story. Among the iconic structures that grace the city’s skyline are Marina City and Lake Point Tower.

These buildings have not only redefined the urban landscape but also had a significant impact on the development of the city. In this article, we will explore the historical background, design, and features of Marina City and Lake Point Tower, showcasing their architectural brilliance and their contribution to Chicago’s urban fabric.

Purpose and Development of Marina City

Marina City, also known as the “Corn Cob Towers,” was built in the early 1960s at a time when the city was experiencing a middle-class exodus to the suburbs. The development of Marina City aimed to bring back residents to the heart of the city by offering a unique housing concept that combined residential, commercial, and recreational spaces into a single complex.

The project was backed by the Building Service Employees International Union (BSEIU), which provided the necessary funding and envisioned Marina City as a self-contained urban community that would meet the diverse needs of its residents.

Features and Impact on Urban Development

Marina City is a revolutionary example of mixed-use architecture, offering a combination of residential, commercial, and recreational spaces within a single complex. It was designed to be a “city within a city,” providing residents with access to everything they needed within walking distance.

The complex consists of two 65-story residential towers, which curve gracefully towards the Chicago River, and a central podium that houses commercial spaces, including offices, shops, restaurants, and a theater. The podium also includes a marina, providing residents with access to boating and other water activities.

Marina City has had a significant impact on urban development in the city. It challenged the conventional notion of high-rise residential towers and demonstrated that a mixed-use approach could bring life and vibrancy to the heart of the city.

The complex has become an iconic symbol of Chicago’s architectural prowess and continues to attract residents and visitors with its unique design and amenities.

Design Concept and Architects of Lake Point Tower

Lake Point Tower, located on the shores of Lake Michigan, was completed in 1968 and was the work of architects John Heinrich and George Schipporeit. The design of the building was heavily influenced by the renowned German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture.

The design concept of Lake Point Tower was centered around creating a residential tower that would maximize the stunning views of Lake Michigan while also providing residents with luxurious amenities and a comfortable living environment.

Unique Features and Sustainability of Lake Point Tower

Lake Point Tower is known for its distinctive triangle core, which not only provides structural stability but also maximizes natural light and views for residents. The core houses the building’s elevators, staircases, and utilities, allowing the floor plans to be open and flexible.

The tower’s facade, made of bronze-colored glass, gives it a sleek and modern appearance while also reflecting the changing colors of the sky and the lake. The glass facade, combined with setbacks and terraces, creates an aesthetically pleasing visual rhythm.

In terms of sustainability, Lake Point Tower was ahead of its time. It was one of the first residential towers in the United States to incorporate all-electric appliances, promoting energy efficiency and reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

The building’s design also allows for natural ventilation, reducing the need for artificial cooling systems. Conclusion:

Marina City and Lake Point Tower stand as testaments to Chicago’s ongoing legacy of architectural innovation and urban development.

These buildings have not only transformed the city’s skyline but have also had a significant impact on the way people live and interact within the urban environment. Marina City’s mixed-use concept and Lake Point Tower’s forward-thinking design principles continue to inspire architects and urban planners, creating a legacy that will shape the city for generations to come.The Chicago skyline is synonymous with architectural marvels that have redefined the possibilities of design and engineering.

Two iconic structures that stand tall in the city’s skyline are the John Hancock Center and the Willis Tower. These buildings not only reflect Chicago’s ambition and innovation but also hold significant historical and architectural importance.

In this article, we will delve into the construction challenges, architectural significance, and recent renovations of the John Hancock Center and Willis Tower, showcasing their contributions to Chicago’s architectural legacy.

Construction Challenges and Change of Ownership of the John Hancock Center

The construction of the John Hancock Center, completed in 1969, was not without its challenges. The tower’s unique X-shaped exterior bracing system, designed to ensure structural stability and withstand Chicago’s harsh winds, posed engineering difficulties.

The bracing system required deep foundation caissons and extensive steelwork, which added to the complexity and cost of construction. Additionally, financial troubles plagued the project, and the building changed ownership several times during the construction process.

The original developer, the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, faced bankruptcy at one point, but the building was ultimately completed under new ownership.

Architectural Significance and Design Elements of the John Hancock Center

The John Hancock Center is a testament to architectural innovation and has become an iconic symbol of the Chicago skyline. Its X-shaped exterior bracing, made of steel, not only provides structural stability but also allows for column-free interior spaces, maximizing the available floor area for residents and offices within the building.

The tower’s sleek design and soaring height of 1,127 feet make it a prominent landmark in Chicago. Its tapered design and reflective black glass facade create a bold statement against the sky.

The observation deck on the 94th floor, known as 360 Chicago, offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city and Lake Michigan.

Historical Background and Design Intent of the Willis Tower

Formerly known as the Sears Tower, the Willis Tower has left an indelible mark on Chicago’s architectural landscape. Completed in 1973, it held the title of the tallest building in the world for 25 years.

The tower was designed by the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and its construction was driven by the vision of Sears, Roebuck & Co., who sought to consolidate their company operations within a single, innovative structure. The design of the Willis Tower focused on efficiency, flexibility, and adaptability.

The building’s structural system features bundled tube construction, which maximizes space utilization and allows column-free floor plans. This design concept revolutionized high-rise construction, setting a standard for future developments.

Recent Renovations and Urban-Friendly Features of the Willis Tower

In recent years, the Willis Tower has undergone significant renovations to enhance its appeal and create a more sustainable, urban-friendly environment. The building is now owned by EQ Office, a real estate company focused on creating dynamic, community-oriented spaces.

The base of the tower has been revamped to include a vibrant retail and dining experience to meet the needs of the surrounding community. The renovations, led by architecture firm Gensler, have transformed the former parking and storage areas into modern, engaging spaces that foster collaboration and community interaction.

The Willis Tower’s commitment to sustainability is highlighted by its green roof, which covers the 90,000-square-foot podium. The green roof provides insulation, reduces energy consumption, and mitigates stormwater runoff, contributing to a more environmentally friendly urban landscape.


The John Hancock Center and Willis Tower exemplify Chicago’s history of architectural innovation, engineering excellence, and commitment to urban development. These iconic structures have etched their place in the city’s skyline, bringing global recognition to Chicago’s architectural prowess.

The John Hancock Center’s construction challenges and distinct X-shaped bracing system, along with the Willis Tower’s record-breaking height and recent renovations, demonstrate the city’s evolving architectural landscape. As Chicago continues to evolve, these towering structures remain as iconic symbols of the city’s rich architectural heritage and vibrant urban environment.Chicago’s skyline is a testament to architectural innovation and creativity, with each building showcasing the city’s commitment to design excellence.

One such iconic structure that has captured the world’s attention is the Aqua Tower. Designed by award-winning architect Jeanne Gang, the Aqua Tower stands as a testament to Chicago’s architectural legacy and sustainable design principles.

In this article, we will delve into the unique design, architectural style, and sustainability initiatives of the Aqua Tower, celebrating its significant contributions to Chicago’s skyline.

Unique Design and Architectural Style of the Aqua Tower

The Aqua Tower, completed in 2009, stands 82 stories tall and is characterized by its wave-like appearance. Designed by renowned architect Jeanne Gang and her firm, Studio Gang Architects, the tower is a standout example of organic and fluid architectural style.

The fluidity of the tower’s exterior is achieved through the use of undulating balconies that wrap around the building in a manner reminiscent of waves flowing in and out. These balconies not only create a visually striking effect but also offer residents unique perspectives, as they can enjoy sweeping views of the city from various vantage points.

The Aqua Tower’s design demonstrates Jeanne Gang’s commitment to creating buildings that interact with their surroundings and engage with the urban environment in a meaningful way. The playful and dynamic faade sets the tower apart from its more conventional counterparts, making it an unforgettable addition to Chicago’s skyline.

Sustainability and Environmental Considerations of the Aqua Tower

In addition to its striking design, the Aqua Tower is also a leader in sustainable architecture. The building incorporates several innovative features and environmentally friendly systems that earned it the prestigious LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification at the Gold level.

One of the tower’s notable sustainability initiatives is its green design. The undulating balconies not only create a distinctive look but also serve a functional purpose.

They act as shading devices, reducing solar heat gain and minimizing the need for excessive air conditioning. This design feature helps to lower energy consumption and create a more comfortable living environment for residents.

The Aqua Tower also addresses the issue of thermal bridging, a common problem in high-rise buildings that leads to energy loss and reduced insulation. Jeanne Gang and her team implemented thermal breaks and insulation strategies throughout the tower, minimizing energy waste and optimizing thermal efficiency.

Additionally, the building incorporates water-conservation measures, such as low-flow fixtures and a rainwater collection system. The collected rainwater is utilized for irrigation, reducing the demand for potable water and promoting sustainable water management practices.


The Aqua Tower stands as an architectural gem in Chicago’s skyline, showcasing Jeanne Gang’s innovative design approach and commitment to sustainable architecture. Its wave-like appearance and unique balconies create a striking visual impact, while also providing residents with exceptional views and a sense of connection to the city.

Furthermore, the tower’s sustainable features, including green design strategies and environmentally conscious systems, highlight its role as a leader in sustainable architecture. The Aqua Tower’s contribution to Chicago’s skyline demonstrates the city’s enduring commitment to architectural excellence and sustainability, setting a high standard for future developments.

The Aqua Tower, designed by Jeanne Gang, is an iconic addition to Chicago’s skyline, exemplifying the city’s commitment to architectural innovation and sustainable design. With its wave-like appearance and unique balconies, the tower stands out as a testament to the fluidity and interaction between architecture and its surroundings.

The Aqua Tower’s LEED certification and green design features demonstrate its environmental consciousness and commitment to a more sustainable future. This tower’s significance lies not only in its striking aesthetic but also in its inspiration for future developments to prioritize creativity, sustainability, and a deeper connection to the urban environment.

The Aqua Tower is a shining example of how architecture can enhance a city’s identity and leave a lasting impression.

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