Aqua, 225 N Columbus Chicago IL 60601, an 82-story mixed-use skyscraper situated in Lakeshore East, downtown Chicago, Illinois, is a remarkable architectural achievement. This stunning edifice, designed by a team led by Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects, with James Loewenberg of Loewenberg & Associates as the Architect of Record, boasts an impressive array of functions, including hotel accommodations, residential units for sale, apartments for rent, retail spaces, and offices. The skyscraper's construction journey commenced in 2007 and reached completion in 2009 at a cost of approximately US$300 million.

The Aqua Tower is not merely a tall structure; it's a marvel of contemporary architecture. Its striking design features five levels of underground parking, a sprawling 140,000 sq ft (13,000 m2) base spanning eighty stories, and an 82,550 sq ft (7,669 m2) terrace adorned with gardens, gazebos, pools, hot tubs, a walking/running track, and a fire pit. Each floor within the tower encompasses an area of roughly 16,000 sq ft (1,500 m2).

Notably, Aqua received the Emporis Skyscraper Award for being the skyscraper of the year in 2009 and was a finalist for the biennial International Highrise Award in 2010. It has been recognized as one of the Illinois 200 Great Places by the American Institute of Architects Illinois component (AIA Illinois) in honor of the 2018 Illinois Bicentennial, and it has also been featured as one of AIA Illinois' must-see places.

Aqua is characterized by its unique architectural features, including undulating balconies that stretch outward by as much as 12 feet (3.7 m) to provide residents with stunning views of nearby landmarks. The irregularly shaped concrete floor slabs contribute to the building's sculptural quality, drawing inspiration from the striated limestone outcroppings found in the Great Lakes region.

This skyscraper offers a diverse array of functions, including 55,000 sq ft (5,100 m2) of retail and office space, 215 hotel rooms (floors 1-18), 476 rental residential units (floors 19-52), and 263 condominium units and penthouses (floors 53-81). Aqua stands out as the first downtown building in Chicago to combine condos, apartments, and a hotel.

The building's name, "Aqua," is fittingly inspired by its nautical-themed design, which complements the other structures in the Lake Shore East development. The name is also influenced by the wave-like forms of its balconies and its proximity to Lake Michigan.

In terms of sustainability, Aqua places great emphasis on eco-friendly features. The design incorporates terrace extensions to optimize solar shading, along with water-efficient irrigation systems and energy-efficient lighting. The building is certified LEED-NC (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for New Construction). However, it's important to note that Aqua's monolithic concrete slab design, lacking insulation breaks, can lead to efficient heat transfer, both from inside to outside during winter and vice versa in summer, due to thermal bridging. Nevertheless, the construction process achieved an impressive 84% waste recycling rate.

One of Aqua's standout features is its curve balconies, which extend from 2 to 12 feet outward. These balconies, measuring 9 inches in thickness, gradually thin as they extend outward to aid drainage. While their innovative design offers protection from harsh winds, it has been criticized for lacking thermal breaks, resulting in potential heat loss during the winter months. The construction process involved the use of edge-form steel plates to guide the concrete pour and enable reusability for different curves on various balconies. Aqua stands as a testament to modern architectural excellence, offering a harmonious blend of functionality, sustainability, and innovative design.

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