Gimme A Thermal Break Redux: Engineer Calls Chicago's Aqua Tower "Architectural Pornography"

John Picken/CC BY 2.0

Almost verybody loves Jeanne Gang's Aqua Tower in Chicago; Paul Goldberger described it as an "undulating landscape of bending, flowing concrete, as if the wind were blowing ripples across the surface of the building." I was rather less enthusiastic,

As an architect, I love the look of this building. As a TreeHugger, I wonder how in this day and age we can still be permitting continuous floor to ceiling glass walls and eighty stories of radiator fin balconies in a "green" but cold city like Chicago.

According to Lisa Rochon in the Globe and Mail, I am not alone. She quotes engineer Ted Kesik, who calls the building "architectural pornography:

Take your clothes off, attach a series of highly conductive fins, like the kind they put on motorcycle engines, to the skeleton of your body, and go stand outside in January,” wrote Kesik to his architectural students and colleagues, the day after Jeanne Gang, the Aqua’s award-winning architect, delivered a standing-room-only lecture at the University of Toronto. “Then tell the person who is dressed for winter they are boring, overly practical people who are squashing creative expression among the affluent members of society. …The ‘in crowd’ rules, viciously.”

Gang uses the David Owen Green Metropolis get out of jail free card in her defence. Rochon writes:

I admire the innovative and anchoring work of an architect like Jeanne Gang, who notes that Aqua puts about 750 households on a third of an acre, allowing people to walk from their home to their jobs and to culture and recreation. “The most important thing we can do for the environment is live in compact cities with mass transit,” argues Gang, “that reduce the reliance on the car and other resources.”

It isn't good enough anymore. The technology for building balconies is well resolved and standard in Europe; It just costs money that developers would rather put into granite countertops. That's why it should be in the building codes; as I wrote four years ago in Big Steps in Building: Get Rid Of Those Radiator Fins.

Tags: Big Steps In Building | Chicago | Green Building

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