No. 502 . 05 January 2011 
ArchitectureWeek
Aqua Tower Balconies

Ripple Effect

by Michael J. Crosbie

Your first reaction to seeing Aqua Tower as it commands the Chicago skyline might be, "What happened to that skyscraper?" It looks as if some of its concrete floor fins might have been worn away over years of exposure. Or perhaps some kind of pervasive organism has taken over a sleek glass tower, crawling all over its facade — the Blob meets Howard Roark's Enright Building.

Of course, Aqua Tower was designed this way, by the Chicago firm Studio Gang Architects, with Loewenberg Architects as architect of record. And the result is stunning.

The tower might at first appear to simply be a marriage of two schools of design that have ridden architecture's media wave over the past decade: parametric design and Retro Modernism.

The former is a product of new and continually evolving design software, such as Revit and Rhinoceros, that makes it possible to generate, through algorithms, a vast array of architectural forms — including the complex organic shapes that have earned this genre the derisive moniker of "blobitecture."

Retro Modernism, on the other hand, is the style that the early Modernists claimed Modernism would never be. By the early 1970s, Modernism as an architectural movement, complete with its social agenda, was running dry, co-opted, watered-down, overdone, and exhausted.

It nearly disappeared within the clamor of post-Modernism, only to rise again, this time as an intact style, distinguished by sharp, orthogonal white planes and sleek curtain walls with thin frame profiles. Retro Modern continues to enjoy a wide embrace by architects and the public alike.

Aqua's plan is a sleek modern rectangle, with a wavy line of balconies surrounding it like a crazy bubble. But is a union of parametric design and Retro Modernism the essence of Aqua? Only if you view the tower as a stylistic exercise.   >>>

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