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Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven 
(formerly Chess Records; originally McNaull Tire Co.)
2120 S. Michigan Ave.
1911, Horatio R. Wilson 
1957, Remodeling, John S. Townsend, Jr., and Jack S. Weiner 
This is Chicago’s only building to inspire a Rolling Stones song, which was named for the building and recorded here in 1964 as a tribute to Chess Records. The company’s headquarters from 1957 to 1967 were in this building, which—like its neighbors—began life “in the motor trade.”
Photo via Seth Saith.

Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven

(formerly Chess Records; originally McNaull Tire Co.)

2120 S. Michigan Ave.

1911, Horatio R. Wilson

1957, Remodeling, John S. Townsend, Jr., and Jack S. Weiner

This is Chicago’s only building to inspire a Rolling Stones song, which was named for the building and recorded here in 1964 as a tribute to Chess Records. The company’s headquarters from 1957 to 1967 were in this building, which—like its neighbors—began life “in the motor trade.”

Photo via Seth Saith.

Aqua 
225 N. Columbus Dr.
2009, Studio Gang Architects, Design Arch., Loewenberg Architects, Arch. of Record
It took nearly half a century, but with the completion of Jeanne Gang’s Aqua, the towers of Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina City finally have a true rival for the kind of visual audacity that makes a building a symbol of Chicago throughout the world.
Like Marina City, it is a mixed-use complex, combining condominiums, apartments, commercial space and a hotel.  Unlike Marina City, Aqua as a tower is the usual basic rectangular box.  What sets it apart is the remarkable way Gang has used the idea of a “vertical topography” to gave the face of the building a complex texture that “ungrids” the more conventional linearity that lies beneath.  
This is done through the edges of the floor slabs, which vary continuously from one floor to the next.  Where studies showed the best views (or the most need for sun shading), the slabs end in balconies, cantilevered out as much as 12 feet.   In other areas, balconies are as narrow as 2 feet, or are omitted altogether, and the curtain wall behind them deploys high-performance, more reflective glass to form “pools,” watery-looking voids resting within the vertical landforms of the rippling balconies.
Soon after its completion, Aqua received a large number of awards but also spawned a firestorm of debate over the building’s claims to sustainability. The most frequent critique was that the lack of thermal blocks allows the balcony slabs to channel the cold of a Chicago winter directly into the apartments.  Gang countered that the shading provided by the slabs makes the building more energy efficient in the summer, and that the curtain wall was designed to reduce both solar gain and the infiltration of unwanted air, while operable doors and windows increase natural ventilation.
Despite a striking cantilever-canopied entrance at the north end, the huge three-story podium that houses ballrooms and retail engages the street in a perfunctory manner.  On its roof, an 80,000-square-foot terrace incorporates extensive gardens by landscape architect Ted Wolff along with a swimming pool and other amenities.
Straight on and at a distance, especially on a gray day, Aqua’s unique qualities can recede into the skyline.  Add light and come closer, and the visual engagement becomes almost hypnotic. The restless variability makes the building slippery to the gaze. Stand under one of its corners and look up: with no conventional grid points to visually lock onto, the surfaces of Aqua appear to be constantly in motion.
While its quick rise to prominence has made Aqua a lighting rod for controversy, its faults are those of just about every other residential tower in Chicago, a town where developers calculate room layouts down to the inch to maximize return on investment.  In its short life, Aqua has become indispensable. It continues to provoke discussions on the fundamental architectural questions – commerce versus imagination, sustainability versus transparency, density versus sprawl, and the balance between function and form – even as it has reinvigorated the Chicago skyline by introducing the new morphologies of 21st-century design.
—Lynn Becker, 3rd Edition of AIA Guide to Chicago

Aqua 

225 N. Columbus Dr.

2009, Studio Gang Architects, Design Arch., Loewenberg Architects, Arch. of Record

It took nearly half a century, but with the completion of Jeanne Gang’s Aqua, the towers of Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina City finally have a true rival for the kind of visual audacity that makes a building a symbol of Chicago throughout the world.

Like Marina City, it is a mixed-use complex, combining condominiums, apartments, commercial space and a hotel.  Unlike Marina City, Aqua as a tower is the usual basic rectangular box.  What sets it apart is the remarkable way Gang has used the idea of a “vertical topography” to gave the face of the building a complex texture that “ungrids” the more conventional linearity that lies beneath. 

This is done through the edges of the floor slabs, which vary continuously from one floor to the next.  Where studies showed the best views (or the most need for sun shading), the slabs end in balconies, cantilevered out as much as 12 feet.   In other areas, balconies are as narrow as 2 feet, or are omitted altogether, and the curtain wall behind them deploys high-performance, more reflective glass to form “pools,” watery-looking voids resting within the vertical landforms of the rippling balconies.

Soon after its completion, Aqua received a large number of awards but also spawned a firestorm of debate over the building’s claims to sustainability. The most frequent critique was that the lack of thermal blocks allows the balcony slabs to channel the cold of a Chicago winter directly into the apartments.  Gang countered that the shading provided by the slabs makes the building more energy efficient in the summer, and that the curtain wall was designed to reduce both solar gain and the infiltration of unwanted air, while operable doors and windows increase natural ventilation.

Despite a striking cantilever-canopied entrance at the north end, the huge three-story podium that houses ballrooms and retail engages the street in a perfunctory manner.  On its roof, an 80,000-square-foot terrace incorporates extensive gardens by landscape architect Ted Wolff along with a swimming pool and other amenities.

Straight on and at a distance, especially on a gray day, Aqua’s unique qualities can recede into the skyline.  Add light and come closer, and the visual engagement becomes almost hypnotic. The restless variability makes the building slippery to the gaze. Stand under one of its corners and look up: with no conventional grid points to visually lock onto, the surfaces of Aqua appear to be constantly in motion.

While its quick rise to prominence has made Aqua a lighting rod for controversy, its faults are those of just about every other residential tower in Chicago, a town where developers calculate room layouts down to the inch to maximize return on investment.  In its short life, Aqua has become indispensable. It continues to provoke discussions on the fundamental architectural questions – commerce versus imagination, sustainability versus transparency, density versus sprawl, and the balance between function and form – even as it has reinvigorated the Chicago skyline by introducing the new morphologies of 21st-century design.

—Lynn Becker, 3rd Edition of AIA Guide to Chicago

Read more about - and purchase - the brand new third edition of the AIA Guide to Chicago by clicking  here.

Casa Bonita Apartments
7340–7350 N. Ridge Ave.
1928, Alexander Capraro & Morris Komar
1974, Renovation, Warner, Brejcha, Evans and Assocs.
Glistening white terra-cotta facades define the deep courtyard.
Photo courtesy Payton Chung, via Creative Commons, FLICKR

Casa Bonita Apartments

7340–7350 N. Ridge Ave.

1928, Alexander Capraro & Morris Komar

1974, Renovation, Warner, Brejcha, Evans and Assocs.

Glistening white terra-cotta facades define the deep courtyard.

Photo courtesy Payton Chung, via Creative Commons, FLICKR


Pui Tak Center 
(On Leong Chinese Merchants’ Association Building)
2216 S. Wentworth Ave.
1928, Michaelsen & Rognstad
After relocating from downtown, the On Leong tong carried on their activities—a hostel for immigrants, a Chinese-language school, business, job-placement, and dating services—in various nearby locations. For their  new building they turned to Michaelsen & Rognstad, who had done restaurant remodelings for a prominent member. Although unfamiliar with Chinese architecture, they were willing students. Rognstad was responsible for the sculptural program, executed in terra-cotta, a very good substitute for the liu li glazed ceramic of traditional Chinese architecture. Polychrome terra-cotta flowers, vases, and moths cover the walls. Lions guard the doorway, their heads twisted so they face us but do not turn their backs on each other, which would be bad luck.

Pui Tak Center

(On Leong Chinese Merchants’ Association Building)

2216 S. Wentworth Ave.

1928, Michaelsen & Rognstad

After relocating from downtown, the On Leong tong carried on their activities—a hostel for immigrants, a Chinese-language school, business, job-placement, and dating services—in various nearby locations. For their  new building they turned to Michaelsen & Rognstad, who had done restaurant remodelings for a prominent member. Although unfamiliar with Chinese architecture, they were willing students. Rognstad was responsible for the sculptural program, executed in terra-cotta, a very good substitute for the liu li glazed ceramic of traditional Chinese architecture. Polychrome terra-cotta flowers, vases, and moths cover the walls. Lions guard the doorway, their heads twisted so they face us but do not turn their backs on each other, which would be bad luck.