'Skyscraper of the Year' completed in Chicago


May 27, 2010

The Aqua tower in Chicago

The Aqua tower in Chicago

Image Gallery (2 images)

James McHugh Construction has officially completed construction on Aqua, the Chicago high-rise that was named 2009 Skyscraper of the Year by international building database Emporis. Aqua beat out over 300 competitors worldwide for the honor, thanks in no small part to its no-two-alike undulating concrete balconies. It turns out, however, that there’s more to the 82-story tower than just good looks.

There were several challenges that needed to be overcome in the construction process. Because of the building’s proximity to Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, it was necessary to continuously remove groundwater from the construction site. To provide a secure foundation, crews had to fill in over 1,100 linear feet of abandoned underground freight tunnels beneath the property. The balconies also provided a challenge - while each one was unique, they also had to be poured in a reasonably time-efficient manner, so the team could stick to their schedule of pouring one floor every four days. They managed this by using light-gauge steel and brackets to create easily-laid, reusable forming edges for their balcony forms.

The balconies range from zero to eight feet in depth, and were inspired by the striated limestone outcroppings that are common throughout the Great Lakes. Besides providing aesthetic appeal, the balconies also diffuse wind gusts, and cut down on the need for air conditioning by shading the occupants from the sun. The building’s exterior even received an award from PETA, as its irregular, broken-up appearance will supposedly keep migrating birds from flying into it.

Other environmentally-friendly features of Aqua include the use of green building materials, public charging stations for electric cars, and an 8th floor terrace that doubles as a green roof.

"Aqua represents a real step forward in what architects and contractors can do with concrete, from a design standpoint," said Dave Alexander, McHugh's senior vice president. "We feel this building marshals a whole new era of innovation in Chicago architecture and construction."

The highrise contains condominiums, apartments, retail space and a hotel.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Um... they forgot to iron it before they put it up.


I got the creeps looking at that building!


The building appears to have an edgy-ness right on the Fringe of reality where I kind of expect it to shimmer in and out of existence as if it were constructed right in Brigadoon.


i like it , very organic looking ,, ..


it looks like a very, very bad haircut by an incompetent, or even drunk barber.


nice...Something different, innovative, and a step forward for the better. Hopefully the rest of America will jump on the same wagon.

Jamie Olsen

i like it

Le Tuan why oh why the WW2 block bunker at street level? 2much for the human unit to understand.


Beautiful, beautiful building. Nice to see large projects continue to happen. Gives me a little bit of hope for this country.

Patrick Ballenger

dig it

Shaun Patrick

How do you have a zero-foot balcony?

Gregg Eshelman

It is wrapped by a computer generated landscape contours. It would have been top marks if it had a curvilinear shape as opposed to the block.

Jyanzi Kong
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