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Wanda Vista, a USD 900 million mixed-use development will establish a new silhouette for the Windy City.

November 2015

Adding its own unique stamp to Chicago’s iconic skyline, Wanda Vista is slated to be the world’s tallest building designed by a woman once completed in 2019.

The 1,100 – foot mixed-use mega tower proposed for Lakeshore East, a master-planned community, could be the third tallest building in the ‘Windy City,’ behind the Wills Tower and Trump International Hotel and Tower.

Designed by Chicago-based architecture firm Studio Gang – led by founding principal Jeanne Gang – the design features a trio of glass towers arranged in a row, overlooking the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. With a top roof height of nearly 1,150 feet (350 metres), the building is backed by Chinese developer Wanda Group and the Chicago-based Magellan Development group, and is set to offer luxury condominiums (Vista Residences), a hotel and a retail building.

To be built at the edge of the Loop in the Lakeshore East area, the USD 900 million development has been the centre of much hype as it’s the largest ever real estate investment by a Chinese company in Chicago and one of the largest in the U.S. The project is expected to break ground in 2016 and will create over 2,000 construction jobs and more than 500 permanent jobs according to the office of the city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel.

The upcoming Wanda Vista boasts impressive numbers but begs the question: How will the building rank among the giants of Chicago’s skyline as a testament to the city’s architecture?


The design features three interlocked, zigzagging high-rises that would step up to the tallest of the three, with the middle high-rise straddling a small street. The building’s dimensions have the added benefit of accentuating corner views and allocating green space at various heights.

The creator behind the design, Jeanne Gang one of the world’s foremost architects who started her practice in 1997, is a big believer in using natural and functional materials. For her, there needs to be a sensibility about the materials used, and it is this relationship between nature and architecture that leads to unique buildings.

Gang says that together with her team they have been able to take ordinary materials and make extraordinary buildings.

“With Vista we stumbled upon this naturally forming geometry in nature called frustum found in crystal formations, fluorite and sapphire. We’re interested in such an architectural shape that comes from nature and by stacking those and turning them over we get this undulation in and out which creates really interesting views towards the city or skyward,” Gang explains in a newly released video about the development.

Describing frustum, she says it’s the resemblance of a pyramid without a “pointy peak.” The building’s undulating frustum geometry is derived from the study of natural mineral formations including crystals and Illinois limestone.

“The frustums improve the environmental performance of the building with the addition of a gradient of coloured glass responding to the different light conditions on each part of a frustum,” says Gang on the company’s website.

Optimised to reduce energy use on every floor, the blue-green-tinted glass forms a subtle gradient that is visible from near and far. “Designing Vista we’re using a variety of lake blue colours from the deeper to the lighter to create a wave gradient across the overall height of the building,” she explains.

Gang says that from the beginning of the project, Chicago-based developers Magellan saw the potential of the property that is now Lakeshore East.

“They imagined a new neighbourhood on this former railyard and they’ve really been able to pull off a very cohesive community. They really have the same vision as I do for creating communities and understand what it means to do good architecture,” she says.


Wanda Vista will now join a host of other high-profiled Chicago buildings and set a new standard for skyscrapers in the city.

Architecture in Chicago has not only influenced, but has also reflected the history of American architecture as a whole. With its various styles and influences, experts have long argued that architecture in Chicago is the birthplace of innovation.

“Chicago is a city all about architecture. It’s the most American city; it’s really where modernism has taken off. It’s also my home and a natural place to begin my practice,” says Gang speaking on Chicago’s iconic architecture. “Most of our projects deal with creating community, we really think of people and how they use space and how people relate to each other within space.”

Keeping in mind a sense of space and community, Studio Gang believes that Wanda Vista will define a new edge of the city as it knits the Lakeshore East community to its environment with unprecedented urban connections.

“Wanda Vista tower realises the promise of the ever-changing Chicago skyline, establishing a dynamic new silhouette for the city while also enhancing the River’s urban edge at the Lakeshore East community. At ground level, the building creates an essential pedestrian connection between the Riverwalk and the community park’s outdoor recreational facilities. Retail, restaurant, and hotel amenities combine at the upper levels, creating a vibrant public social centre—a microcosm of a city united.”


While Gang, a MacArthur Fellow, will hold the title as the architect of the world’s tallest female-designed building when Wanda Vista is completed in the next four years, she doesn’t have to wait long to achieve that title because she already holds it.

Currently the world’s tallest building designed by a woman-led architectural firm is also in Chicago and is also designed by Gang. The Aqua Tower which was completed at the end of 2009 is an 84-storey mixed-use residential skyscraper in the Lakeshore East development.

Shortlisted for the prestigious International Highrise Award in 2010, Aqua Tower was Gang’s first skyscraper project and has emerged as a Chicago landmark that has broken out of the city-wide uniform designs of right angles and smooth surfaces.

After the completion of the skyscraper, Gang spoke of her success in an interview with the Guardian: “Our working method is very collaborative. Having said that, at least half, maybe more, of the staff here are women. I just think it’s natural. I’ve always wanted to build. I was encouraged to make and repair things by my parents. But okay, I can’t hide the fact that it’s great to have done a skyscraper, even if I never do one again.”

While Wanda Vista marks the second skyscraper Gang and her team are undertaking, the Chicago practice is not only about high-rise buildings, with Gang adding: “I like different types of work,” says Gang. “I don’t want to be pigeonholed.”