Chicago’s Iconic Aqua Tower Gets A Doppleganger In Texas

Aqua and 2929 Weslayan

For a supposed “second” city, an awful lot of places want to be like Chicago.

In the past on this blog, we’ve shown you the second-hand American clothing store in Tokyo called “Chicago.”

We’ve taken you inside the Chinese restaurant chain “Dan Ryan’s Chicago Steakhouse.”

And let’s not forget the dunderheaded boasting of New Yorkers who claim that their city invented the skyscraper, even though anyone who can figure out the front door of a public library knows that skyscrapers were born on these shores of Lake Michigan.

2929 Weslayan under construction. Courtesy of HAIF member triton.

2929 Weslayan under construction. Courtesy of HAIF member triton.

Now Texas is getting into the game.

Aqua, the undulating Chicago skyscraper that’s been on the cover of pretty much every major newspaper and magazine from here to Shanghai, is gong up in Houston.  Or, at least a Houston-sized version of it is.  And by “Houston-sized” we mean a mere 40 stories, less than half of the 83 stories* of the original.

2929 Weslayan under construction. Courtesy of HAIF member Jax.

2929 Weslayan under construction. Courtesy of HAIF member Jax.

We were first tipped off to the potential of an Aqua-inspired building last year by the people on HAIF, the forum portion of our Houston Architecture sister site.  But we didn’t want to do anything with it until we could actually see that it really was going to be an homage  Now that construction is moving along, you can clearly see from these photos posted by HAIFers that it  is going to look quite a lot like Aqua.

The Aqua tribute goes by the name of 2929 Weslayan, but also has signs and literature calling it 2800 Weslayan, 2801 Weslayan, and 2900 Weslayan.  Truly this is one slippery eel.

It uses Jeanne Gang’s curvy-balconies-over-a-glass-box technique to create a visually interesting form.  One that is very familiar to people in Chicago, and design magazine editors around the world.   It is being developed by PM Realty Group, which describes it thusly:

RTKL, a global architecture and planning practice, is credited with the graceful tower design inspired by a flowing evening gown that reflects the elegance and refinement of River Oaks.

(If SOAR can pretend that the Hancock Center is in Streeterville, then it’s OK for PM Realty to pretend 2929 Weslayan is in River Oaks.)

RTKL is based in Baltimore.  It also has an office in Chicago.  But the design of the Houston Aqua is being credited to RTKL’s people in Dallas.

Aqua and 2929 Weslayan height comparison

Aqua and 2929 Weslayan height comparison

Strangely, even though the two designs are strikingly similar, some Houstonians criticize Aqua’s design.  When shown a picture of the original,  HAIF member cloud713 wrote, “So glad ours doesn’t look like that.”  More humor can be found in a post by HoustonBoy who stated of the 40-story tower, “Dear god this will be a huge building,” apparently unaware that in Chicago a building doesn’t even get mentioned in the press if it has fewer than 80 stories.

We have contacted Studio Gang for a comment on 2929 Weslayan.  When we receive a response, we’ll post it here.

* You may often see Aqua listed as 82 stories. We have been repeatedly assured by the maintenance people at Aqua that it is, indeed 83 stories tall and the reason for the discrepancy is that the top floor penthouse is actually two stories tall.
Disclosure notice: At the time this article was published, the author was leasing an apartment at Aqua.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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  1. Being a longtime Houstonian I wanted to respond to your article about the 2929 Weslayan tower and its similarities to Aqua.
    First let me be clear that I don’t agree with all of the things written by Haifers.
    I have been a huge fan of the Aqua building from the day renderings came out.
    There is no doubt that the Weslayan tower is inspired by the Aqua, and no one can deny that. You have to understand that there is an excitement in Houston to see all of the new projects, infill, and concern for a more urban transformation taking place here.
    I would never suggest that Houston can hold a candle to the architecture that has been built and stands today in the great city of Chicago, but living here for as long as I have it sure is nice to see us waking up and embracing some of the things Chicago has done so well.
    Unfortunately copying something successful is the nature of the beast. Just consider it a tribute to a great building and even though ours will be just 40 stories it will have a dramatic impact on the area between downtown and the uptown Galleria.

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  2. Aqua is sleek and refined – the knockoff in Houston (2929 Weslayan)looks thick and clunky. 2929 balconies are unrefined and much more formulaic. I have no connection to Aqua, but 2929 Weslayan looks like KMart to Aqua’s Armani. Less is more – especially in sculptural design.

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  3. Chicago is called the “Second City” because the first one burned down in the Chicago fire.

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    • Editor

      According to the Chicago Historical Society’s Encyclopedia of Chicago, Chicago got the name “Second City” the same way it got the name “Windy City” — from a New York Writer.

      During the mid-twentieth century, critics of Chicago continued to deride the Midwestern metropolis as a provincial backwater. New York writer A. J. Liebling commented on the dearth of fine dining and entertainment and the migration of rising literary stars from Chicago to New York and Los Angeles, and labeled Chicago the “Second City”–a metropolis whose glory days were now passed.

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