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Behold the Aqua Tower by architect Jeanne Gang, Chicago. Of course, the skyscraper is an obsolete building form because the ones we’ve already got will never be renovated in the coming era of resource and capital scarcity. But that doesn’t stop the developers and architects from creating new ones — especially at this climax moment of the turbo-industrial economy. Remember: societies create their biggest monuments just before they roll over and swoon. Now, the reason the developers and architects do this is because they can’t resist the temptation to maximize the floor-to-area ratio of the building lot. That is, to stack as many salable or rentable units over one plot of land. Everybody makes more money in the short term. In the long term, society is left holding the bag in the sense that the building ceases to be an asset and becomes a liability for the city. In the case of this monstrosity, that will happen when the need for major renovations arrives. All buildings are faced with this. As a living organism, the city needs buildings that lend themselves to adaptive re-use, which these skyscrapers do not.  The PR bullshit for this building crows about LEED certification and having one of Chicago’s “largest green roofs.” In fact, there is nothing sustainable about this building. It’s just a way of leveraging the future for short-term gain.



The big sell here are the undulating terraces around the skin of the building. The architect claims that this “creates a community on its facade.” Community is another phony buzzword, of course. Check out the ridiculous rendering below for how that works.



Thanks to Adrian Pols for sending it in.



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About James Howard Kunstler

View all posts by James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency and the four-book series of World Made By Hand novels, set in a post economic crash American future. His most recent book is Living in the Long Emergency; Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward. Jim lives on a homestead in Washington County, New. York, where he tends his garden and communes with his chickens.

12 Responses to “June 2014”

  1. MDG June 4, 2014 at 9:47 am #

    It looks like a skyscraper that has been attacked by a giant white fungus.

  2. carstars June 4, 2014 at 11:54 am #

    The terraces provide a lonely launch site for that last flight to the exit. Possible they will market this to the folks down at the Chicago Board of Trade.

  3. hiruitnguyse June 4, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

    Would make a Great Suicide Tower.

  4. Illoura June 5, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    Before JHK described what the ‘fungus’ was supposed to be (undulating water), I was already gagging.
    Then I saw the balcony photos and starting laughing, with the same thoughts everyone else is having – what a perfect place for the financiers to jump from.
    It’s truly alarming to see so many overt signs of empire collapse. I never expected to live thru this kind of history. I grew up envisioning life would be something more akin to the Jetsons than the Flintstones.(The “jumping platforms” could have been convenient parking space for the flying cars).

  5. hotsauce_johnny June 9, 2014 at 12:19 am #

    Those balconies remind me of the architecture from the original “Planet of the Apes” movie.

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  6. Civility118 June 21, 2014 at 7:11 pm #

    Collectively we’re far removed from nature and increasingly the gentler side of our humanity, but that hasn’t stopped the building of cement and glass tree houses. Up there, the privileged few have a view and can feel safe and above it all.

    Meanwhile, I thought you’d like this article with great photos in the current Atlantic Monthly, “How Cities Use Design to Drive Homeless People Away”.


  7. urbanist July 1, 2014 at 8:58 am #

    JHK, usually I’m on board with you, but I have to question this one. You can make all the claims against the architectural aesthetics in this building that you want, but how can you claim there is “nothing sustainable about this building?” Inherently, building within an existing urban environment at high density offers tremendous environmental, social, and economic benefits. Opposite of suburbia (which I know you critique), here there is no new infrastructure needed, residents are walking to work or taking public transit, and an abundance of amenities are within walking distance, thus reducing automobile usage (and the corresponding drain on natural resources and pollution).

    Environmentally speaking, energy consumption is far less on a per capita basis than any other typology of urban development. Yes, there is higher embedded energy in the construction of high rises, but over the period of several decades this averages out to be much more highly efficient than lower density typologies.

    Socially, there are many activities and recreational opportunties within immediate proximity (Lakeshore East park, the lakefront park, supermarket, gyms restaurants).

    Economically, the boost to property taxes for the city center is extremely important in the long term, helping to provide a more livable city with adequate schools and public services, and thus in turn lead to more of a draw to compact urban living.

    To argue this building isn’t able to adapt to other uses is not entirely important or accurate. For instance, the same floorplates are accommodating residential and hotel in this building and office space exists in the podium (it is quite mixed-use). Regardless, even with a high proportion of ‘living’ in this building, we should be promoting the long term residential qualities of our urban centers. That shouldn’t change in the long term!

    I’m not arguing that every residential building should be 80 stories tall. Maximum efficiency and sustainability may indeed occur at lower heights. But to showcase this as an example of an unsustainable prelude to our society’s doom? There is an endless list of things I’d put ahead of this. If aesthetics are your issue, please stay focused on that. If you truly have issues with the inherent building typology, I’d honestly love for you to write more thoroughly on the topic.

  8. bettybarcode July 1, 2014 at 8:44 pm #

    Once you’re higher than 7-8 stories, balconies like these are unusable most of the time. You won’t be hanging out there in the winter. Any other time, wind shear around skyscrapers makes for pretty harsh lounging. Plus, high enough up, you can no longer see what is most fascinating about cities: people on the street. Unless you’re a smoker, your balcony will most likely become storage space. The idea of balconies is so much nicer than the reality.

  9. Tom July 13, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

    While I don’t care for this building at all, I have some experience living in this area of Chicago.

    I used to have an apartment in the lower-rise building (white vertical stripes, and a surprising 40 stories) to the right in the balcony picture above. At that time, the Outer Drive (aka, Lake Shore Drive) ran to the west of that building and would have been seen below in the picture. Now it’s east of the cluster of high-rises beyond. Even though it wasn’t that long a walk to the Loop, downtown, I felt isolated living there, and the sidewalks on East Randolph Street the led to downtown were desolate and windswept. There was a shuttle bus provided by the building, and city bus service too. I’d take the shuttle. Still you needed a car or a taxi to do food shopping. It was actually easier to get to Brooks Brothers than a supermarket. I had a balcony unit on the south side of the building on the 32nd floor. I almost never used the balcony. I could tolerate the height looking out the window, but being on the balcony made me feel acrophobic.

    I later moved to Lake Point Tower, the better known curvilinear building just west of Navy Pier on the north side of the Chicago River, less than a mile away, and the only residential building near downtown Chicago that’s on the lake east of Lake Shore Drive. It was a more pleasant place to live. You could walk to a nice park on the lake front. The building had a small super market, barber shop, dry cleaners, and a bank, all of which I patronized regularly. The walk to North Michigan Avenue was pleasant enough, and you also could take a city bus. It was a rental when I was there. Now a pricey condo. Their site: http://www.lakepointtower.org/home.asp

    Navy Pier had not been developed at that time. My apartment had a direct view of that. I had absolutely no view of the city, just the lake, the Pier, and the water filtration plan, which was surprisingly inoffensive, since it was landscaped with a park and the building was only a couple stories high and terraced. The view of the lake, particularly in the evening with the flashing navigation lights at the end of the breakwaters was soothing. It reminded me of the flashing beacon on the waterfront in The Great Gatsby.

    Just down the Chicago river is Marina City with it’s two cylindrical towers. Some people found the slightly pie-slice-shaped units with balconies there to be un-nerving since from the inside they seemed to hang in space. Occupants felt vulnerable, as if the building was failing to protect them from being jettisoned over the balcony. I wonder if people will have the same sensation with the units in the building proposed above? I get vertigo just looking at the picture.

    As an aside, Marina City was built in 1959 to bring people back to living downtown. It had a lot of available services, more than Lake Point Tower. And it succeeded, because these types of high rises have been continuously built in the area ever since, the one above being the latest, I guess.

    On a flight back to Chicago from Boston, I sat to the right of Bertram Goldberg, the architect who designed Marina City. He was regaling a young lady, sitting next to his left, with some theories of the psychology of architecture that he supplemented with pages from a text on the subject. I guess he failed to anticipate the effect of the balconies in Marina City on some of its occupants. He discusses Marina City here http://www.architechgallery.com/arch_info/bodies_of_work/goldberg_marina_city.html

    So, some high-rises are better than others. It depends to a great deal on how they relate to the surrounding area. Lake Point Tower was close to ideal, though I much prefer to live in a low-rise building with immediate personal access to a yard and vegetation. That said, I worked in an office suite in Lake Point Tower, so that made commuting just a matter of taking an elevator ride. And that was a real luxury.

    • christiangustafson September 22, 2014 at 9:40 am #

      I lived on the 45th floor of the Marina City hi-rise for 7 years — spent the bulk of my twenties there.

      The balconies were splendid; I spent each morning out on mine with a sharp cup of black coffee, enjoying the city waking up. My balcony door was open so much that I would get city soot inside on my things. Or maybe that was actually chocolate dust from the Blommer chocolate factory just west of River North.

      I did not own a car — had no interest in owning one.

      Marina City felt very secure. Once in a blue moon some idiot would drop hot coals down the garbage chutes, starting a fire down in the dumpster below. Smoke would come up the chute, and the policy for residents was to go out to the balconies until it was out. The place is concrete — it’s not going anywhere.

      The new buildings like the Trump Tower and now this one are built on a much larger scale. They are of course doomed, especially when Chicago and Illinois itself flame out.

      But Marina City is eternal!

  10. JustReadingThrough July 21, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

    No one in Chicagoland gets more excited about its’ architecture than the media; which of course keeps the mayor, other politicians, big money, and even socialites happy. Sprawl will devour us eventually – lateral and vertical sprawl – and will put more physical space and emotional space between us all. Money and corruption (‘rezoning’) will dictate the terms. There was a ‘spiral’ design building proposed for development (they even broke ground) before funding ‘fell through’. But it now looks as though a Chinese group (The Wanda Group) will go ahead with some version of an ‘undulating spiral’ tower that will approach 1200 feet. More enormous buildings, more roads and parking spaces, fewer places to easily walk, less civil human contact. Yay…

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  11. christiangustafson September 22, 2014 at 9:55 am #

    Actually, Marina City is a good example of Jim’s point about how these buildings will never be renovated.

    When I lived there in the 1990s, the building had serious financial problems, particularly with the “shared area” of the lobbies, the elevators, and paying the light bill.

    The elevators had not been updated. The lifts and the control systems were the same ones that had been installed in 1962 or so.

    They had a special guy from OTIS who still knew how all of the mechanical toggles and relays worked. Each building is 61 floors served by upper and lower pairs of elevators. As of the late 1990s, these control systems were complex 35+ year old electro-mechanical switches.