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225 North Columbus Drive, Chicago, IL


Aqua Tower displaying its rippling balconies
Building Information
Developer Magellan Development Group, Ltd.
Architect Studio Gang Architects
Number of Units 264
Number of Floors 86
Year Built 2009
Construction Method Concrete
Type of Roof PMR
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225 North Columbus Drive, Chicago, IL
Distance to Public Transit Less than one block
Region Chicago
Municipality Chicago
Zoning PD 70
Title of Land Condominium



The Aqua Tower is an 82 storey "supertall" mixed use structure within the 28 acre Lakeshore East complex, and contains commercial, residential and hotel spaces. It rises from a podium near Millennium Park and is part of of a development that has been under construction for the better part of the last decade on the old Illinois Central Railroad yards along Lake Michigan.

A bird's eye view of Lakeshore East Complex
It was designed by Studio Gang Architects, headed by Jeanne Gang, FAIA, whose 38 person firm has distinguished itself with community centers, schools, and houses. This was their first high rise structure and the developer, James Loewenberg of the Magellan Development Group, asked that the tower be sustainable, as well.[1]

From a distance, the curved and swerving balconies gives this building an appearance of rippling water, unlike the square rectilinear buildings that Chicago is usually known for. The design called for 1.9 million square feet and is roughly estimated to cost about $300 million.

Aqua is noted for its design and functionality and was named "skyscraper of the year for 2009" by Emporis, a German company that collects and publishes data about buildings worldwide.

Here is a one minute promotional video that presents an overview of the Aqua: Aqua at Lakeshore East - Chicago


Aqua is considered a 'walker's paradise' by the Walk Score website which lists amenities, services, school, and parks near a particular location. For instance, there are several restaurants within the building itself, although many of them are affiliated with the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel. A little farther afield, more restaurants can be chosen from a variety of ethnic origins.

Numerous coffee bars, groceries options, and pubs are under half a mile from the Aqua. The Lakeshore East Dog Park is under 500 feet away and Millennium Park, Cityfront Plaza and the Chicago River Walk are within a third of a mile, which is only about 1,700 feet.

A few early learning, day care, and kindergarten schools are within a quarter of a mile. At two thirds of a mile, there is an elementary school, a high school, and DePaul University College.

Public transit is also featured nearby, with a transit score of 100 out of 100, offering over 40 bus and rail options.[2]


A view of the cantilevered balconies from below

Jeanne Gang, head of Studio Gang Architects, brought back the "curve" with Aqua. This was done by sinuously curving the concrete balconies. Balconies extend anywhere from 2 feet to 12 feet and are different on every floor. Each floor slab then had a unique shape causing engineering calculations to be done for each floor. To create the curves of the balconies during the concrete pour, an edge-form steel plate would guide the concrete. The steel form was designed to bend for a pour and would then spring back into a straight line, ready to bent again for further pours. This eliminated miles of forms that could only be used once and factored well for Aqua's sustainability rating.

Despite the curves on the outside, the interiors were designed to maintain a rectilinear concept to avoid odd angles and curves which make the placement of furniture more difficult. The curved balconies provide private space for residents and also act as solar shields for other units. For those apartments that do not have balconies protecting them, different window glazing was used to take full advantage of the sunlight.

The building contains the 225 room Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel extending from floors 4 to 18. Floors 19 to 52 are devoted 474 rental apartments and the remaining upper floors contain 264 condominium units with penthouses on the 80th and 81st floors. Aqua is the first high-rise in Chicago specifically designed to feature condominiums, luxury rental, hotel and retail spaces in a single structure with separate access for each sector.

Renewable and recyclable materials were used inside the units. Energy Star rated appliances and fixtures were installed. In addition to the residences, nine townhouses were also built into the podium upon which Aqua sits. Underground parking assumes the rest of the space complete with six charging stations for up to 24 hybrid and electric vehicles to charge at the same time.[3]

Layout and Features


Aqua is a striking structure that immediately draws attention from the wavy forms of the balconies, giving the building an appearance of being sculpted. No two floors have the same curves.

Residents have access to the amenities available on the third level podium garden such as the pool, hot tubs, jogging track, and gardens. Indoors, residents can enjoy the basketball court, pool, fitness studio, and media room with theater style seating.

The units within range from studio apartments to rarer three bedroom units along with a few larger penthouses on the 80th and 81st floors. The condominium units are arrayed on floors 53 to 81 and are fitted with KitchenAid appliances, Snaidero or Fieldstone cabinets, granite counter tops, and floor to ceiling windows.

Washer and dryers are in the units, microwaves, dishwashers, and all cooled by central air conditioning. Bathrooms feature marble counter tops and floors.[4]

Floor Plans

Numerous variations of floor plans exist for Aqua. Here are a few examples:


Aqua’s extensive amenities package provides an 80,000-square-foot outdoor deck with:

  • Lush gardens
  • Gazebos
  • Pools
  • Cabañas
  • Hot tub
  • Running track
  • Fire pit and grills

Indoors, the amenities continue where a 35,000-square-foot amenity floor provides state-of-the-art fitness facilities, such as:

  • Basketball court
  • Group fitness studio
  • Indoor lap pool
  • Spa featuring a hot tub, sauna, steam and massage rooms
  • Private party suites with catering kitchens
  • Sky garden lounge
  • Media room with theater-style seating
  • Billiards and game area
  • Business center.


Aqua Bylaws
Rentals Yes
Pets Yes
Age No

  • Many suites have been set aside strictly for rental
  • Children's play areas and pools encourage family living
  • Fire pits and grills are provided for residents and guests on the 3rd floor exterior deck


Aqua is pursuing a green building LEED certification from the United States Green Building Council, (USGBC), and has followed many of the guidelines set out by the USGBC. Here are some of the highlights that make make this a "green" and "sustainable" building:

  • To reduce the solar loads, six types of glazing was used including tinted, reflective, and fritted, along with low-E glass.
    • A ceramic composition infused into 'fritted glass' also doubles as a safety factor in keeping birds from crashing into the tower, a strategy that won Aqua an award from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
    • To reduce solar load on the exposed glass, Studio Gang conducted sun pattern studies that in turn led to its specifying six different types of glazing.
    • In addition to low-E coatings, the firm selected reflective glass for the exposed parts of the east and south facades.
  • The sinuously curved concrete decks on each floor assume different configurations where balconies extend anywhere from 2 to 12 feet.
    • Architects used computer modeling to create the rippling contours. The contours were designed to assist in cutting the solar load on the building.
    • Each floor slab is unique in shape which meant calculations had to be done separately for each floor.
    • A re-usable edge-form steel plate to guide the concrete pour was employed. The steel form would bend for a pour and then spring back into a straight line, ready to be bent again for another curve, thus saving miles of superfluous one-use forms.
  • Aqua was celebrated for its green design, which includes energy-efficient lighting and a rainwater collection system.
  • Within the apartments, the architects selected materials and equipment with sustainable features such as renewable and recyclable bamboo for the floors, plumbing fixtures including toilets, faucets, and shower-heads that cut down on water use.
  • Energy Star-rated appliances.[5]
  • In the parking area, a six-charger station can accommodate 24 plug-in electric and hybrid gas-and-electric two and four wheel vehicles.


Since its opening, Aqua has received many awards and accolades.[6]

  • 2010 International Highrise Award Finalist, Deutsches Architekturmuseum
  • 2010 Honor Award, Distinguished Building, AIA Chicago
  • 2009 Skyscraper of the Year, Emporis
  • 2009 Annual Design Review Honorable Mention, Architect Magazine
  • 2009 “Proggy” Award, PETA
  • 2008 American Architecture Award, Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture & Design


  1. Green Source - Aqua Tower
  2. Walk Score
  3. Green Source
  4. Magellan News
  5. Green Source
  6. Studio Gang Architects

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