Architecture

Willis Tower's renovated viewing point is not for the faint of heart

Willis Tower's renovated viewi...
The Ledge's four glass boxes extend 4.3 ft (1.3 m) out from the Willis Tower, allowing visitors to gaze at the city below
The Ledge's four glass boxes extend 4.3 ft (1.3 m) out from the Willis Tower, allowing visitors to gaze at the city below
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The Ledge's four glass boxes extend 4.3 ft (1.3 m) out from the Willis Tower, allowing visitors to gaze at the city below
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The Ledge's four glass boxes extend 4.3 ft (1.3 m) out from the Willis Tower, allowing visitors to gaze at the city below
SOM says that on a good day, visitors can enjoy views of up to 50 miles (80 km) and four states
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SOM says that on a good day, visitors can enjoy views of up to 50 miles (80 km) and four states
The Skydeck is situated on the Willis Towers' 103rd floor
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The Skydeck is situated on the Willis Towers' 103rd floor
Much of the renovation included installing a series of interactive exhibits detailing the history of Chicago
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Much of the renovation included installing a series of interactive exhibits detailing the history of Chicago
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Those who take an elevator ride up to the 103rd floor of Chicago's iconic Willis Tower will now find a newly renovated Skydeck Chicago viewing point and museum experience. The main attraction is the Ledge, which consists of four glass boxes extending outward, allowing visitors to step outside the main structure of the tower and peer down at the city below.

The Willis Tower (aka Sears Tower) is an important building in the history of skyscrapers. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), which also handled this recent Skydeck renovation, it was originally completed in 1973 and stood as the world's tallest skyscraper for 25 years. Even now, it's a very tall building, at 442 m (1,450 ft) in height and remains the USA's third-tallest tower.

The Ledge is the headline-grabbing part of Skydeck Chicago and was originally installed in 2009. It consists of four glass boxes that extend 4.3 ft (1.3 m) out from the Willis Tower. These are made up of three layers of 0.5-in (1.27-cm)-thick glass laminated into one unit.

They have been given an overhaul since an incident in 2019 when the glass floor cracked under the weight of visitors. Though terrifying, the damage was minor and only involved an outer protective layer. SOM says that on a good day, you can enjoy views of up to 50 miles (80 km) and four states and it's actually the highest observation point in the USA, even higher than KPF's The Edge in New York City.

SOM says that on a good day, visitors can enjoy views of up to 50 miles (80 km) and four states
SOM says that on a good day, visitors can enjoy views of up to 50 miles (80 km) and four states

Views and accessibility have been improved, lighting tweaked, and the decor changed, along with more mundane but necessary upgrades to the structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.

Aside from the actual viewing point, the experience begins on lower floors, where visitors are guided through a new interactive museum detailing Chicago's culture and history. Highlights include information on the Great Chicago Fire, a full-scale 'L' Train replica, and a flying video tour of the city's skyline, as well as architectural models of major buildings.

Elsewhere in the tower, restoration work is ongoing to upgrade and modernize available office space, as well as add a large outdoor terrace garden. A new new five-level restaurant has also been installed on the lower levels.

Much of the renovation included installing a series of interactive exhibits detailing the history of Chicago
Much of the renovation included installing a series of interactive exhibits detailing the history of Chicago

"Willis Tower is synonymous with Chicago's skyline," says Scott Duncan, SOM Design Partner. "Envisioned in our studios more than 50 years ago, its design continues to inspire us today. In creating the new Skydeck, we wanted to honor the structural clarity and simplicity of the tower's original design approach. We wanted to create a quiet backdrop for people to be fully immersed in the city's skyline and allow the view to speak for itself."

The project also involved Thinc Design, and Chicago Scenic Studios and EQ Office. If you'd like to visit in person, it opened on April 23 and tickets start at US$28 each.

Source: SOM

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5 comments
5 comments
guzmanchinky
It will always be "The Sears Tower" to me. I love Chicago, and this viewing deck is amazing, but the city itself is falling victim to the crushing weight of crime and poverty...
CAVUMark
Long live the Sear Tower!
The deerhunter
They would need to upgrade the underwear changing areas before I went out there.
Signguy
This was an amazing experience back in 2012; the view were fabulous! Clear up to 100 miles!
BlueOak
Yep, still the Sears Tower. I recall going up when I was a kid.

How cool is this:

“1973 and stood as the world's tallest skyscraper for 25 years”

Must have been fun to install those ledge boxes at that height and with the winds.