This brief historical recap on the Willis Tower, previously the Sears Tower, is presented by the Chicago sex abuse victim attorneys of Laffey, Bucci & Kent.
Not only one of the most iconic buildings in the city of Chicago but also across the entire nation, the Willis Tower is visited by thousands of people each year. The city’s diverse museums are likewise an entertaining landmark worth visiting, but it seems that, given the choice, most who’ve had the fortune of visiting both would likely opt for the former. Up next, we offer a short review of its history.
The Sears Tower, located at 233 South Wacker Drive, first opened to tenants in 1973 though construction was not actually completed until 1974. Built for Sears, Roebuck and Company, the structure reaches 110 floors and a height of 1,450 feet excluding broadcast antennas and their supports. It also provides more than 4.3 million square feet of floor space for offices and other activities.
It All Began With the Sears Tower in 1973
In 1969 Sears, Roebuck and Company was the world’s largest retailer, employing approximately 350,000 people. In order to consolidate current staff and accommodate anticipated growth, the company hired a specialist firm to design a three-million-square-foot office tower.
The location of the tower was strategically selected for its proximity to expressways and commuter rail lines to benefit Sears employees, though in the end, the tower’s location proved to be advantageous for the city as well given that the inhabitants of the bustling office building generated new energy in a formerly stagnant West Loop neighborhood.
This history explains why many Chicago residents still nostalgically refer to the building as the Sears Tower, although it has not technically been the Sears Tower for years. In 2009 the London-based insurance broker Willis Group Holdings leased more than 140,000 square feet of office space on three floors of the Sears Tower. The contract included naming rights for 15 years. On July 16, 2009, the name of the building was officially changed to Willis Tower.
The Design & Construction of the Willis Tower
A team of Colombian-Peruvian architects including Bruce Graham and Bangladeshi-Pakistani structural engineer Fazlur Rahman Khan designed the building as nine square “tubes” clustered in a 3×3 matrix forming a square base with 225-foot sides.
All nine tubes would rise up to the 50th floor of the building, where the northwest and southeast tubes terminate. The northeast and southwest tubes reach the 66th floor; the north, east, and south tubes end at the 90th. The remaining west and center tubes reach 108 floors.
The Sears Tower was the first building to use this innovative design. It was both structurally efficient and economic: at 1,450 feet, it provided more space and rose higher than the Empire State Building and cost much less.
The system would prove highly influential in skyscraper construction and has been used in most supertall buildings since, including the world’s current tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. To honor Fazlur Khan’s contributions, the Structural Engineers Association of Illinois commissioned a sculpture of him for the lobby of the Willis Tower.
Additionally, black bands appear on the tower around the 29th, 64th, 88th, and 104th floors. These elements are used to ventilate the building’s environmental support systems and obscure its belted trusses.
Even though regulations did not require a fire sprinkler system, the building was equipped with one from the beginning. As a result of this, there are around 40,000 sprinkler heads in the building, installed at a cost of around $4 million.
In February 1982, two television antennas were added to the structure, increasing its total height to 1,707 feet. The western antenna was later extended on June 5, 2000, bringing the overall height to 1,729 feet.
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