By: Kristen Magnuson
True inspiration: if you’re like me, you could stand a little more of it a little more often. It’s anywhere, on any given day, and so easily accessible, really–but how often do we force ourselves to focus our attention away from our all-important everyday-tasks long enough to actually absorb it?
Infused with an electric energy only a true passion can instill, I actually skipped away from the Sharp Auditorium in the Denver Art Museum last Thursday, immediately dialed a friend, gave him no time to say “hello” before I began my frenetic, ebullient review on a film I had just seen that put me into this inspired state: “Studio Gang Architects: Aqua Tower”. Co-sponsored by Women in Design, the film was shown along with “Philip Johnson, Diary of An Eccentric Architect” as part of the Denver Film Society’s Architecture + Design Film Series.
If you’ve been to Chicago within the past year, you’d have to be blind to not have noticed the latest compelling edition to the downtown skyline: Aqua Tower, designed by Chicago’s own 13-year-old Studio Gang, of which Illinois native Jeanne Gang is principal and founder. The film documents the building’s design and construction process, noting its unique aspects, including its targeted LEED Silver Rating, its green roof (one of Chicago’s largest), and the unique social sky-community created by the nature of its form. Aqua, the world’s tallest female-designed skyscraper, places Jeanne Gang’s name on a prestigious list of world famous architects who have shaped Chicago’s skyline over the centuries, including Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mies van der Rohe.
Aqua is an anomaly of a skyscraper and is in stark–and refreshing–contrast to its rigid and numerous neighbors: Mr. and Mrs. Steel and Glass Box. Unprecedented in personality, the building is a marvelous vertical geographical adventure, in the most urban of settings. Resembling a 3-dimensional topography map, the facades are dotted with multiple organically-shaped reflective sky-pools created by strategically-placed breaks in the cantilevered, undulating floorplates. Each of the 82 floorplates differs only slightly from its nearest floorplate neighbor(s), creating a soft grace that most nearby buildings could not feign in their wildest dreams. Many of the amoeba-like floorplates’ “pseudopods” exist in the precise location that they do in order to attain views of some of Chicago’s classic icons, such and Navy Pier and Millennium Park.
Equally as impressive as this “tall building” was Ms. Gang herself, who happened to be seated two rows and almost directly behind me! She and fellow Harvard classmate, Tomas Rossant of Ennead Architects, took the stage after the film showing and led a short discussion. This dialog proved especially interesting due to the contrast between the two modern architects featured in the two films: Jeanne Gang, whose first and only skyscraper to date is Aqua and Philip Johnson (also a Harvard grad), who is considered to have pioneered the design of the modern glass & steel skyscraper and has designed notable iconic skyscrapers all over the world. The discussion ended with a few questions from audience members.
I know why this entire experience inspired me the way it did: Ms. Gang is a woman–an extremely well-educated, talented, and humble woman. She, however, did not touch me solely because of our shared gender–although I do appreciate the “feminine touch” that Aqua posesses–but because of the penetrating caliber of her work as well as the understated presence she exudes. In a world where jobs can easily become mundane, true inspiration never ceases to serve as a much-necessary reminder of why you are doing what you are doing with this precious life. So, do yourself a favor and don’t talk yourself out of that next event that sounds interesting to you–get up and go. You never know what that inspiration could become.