Tower History

Where we’ve been, and where we’re going

WT-Photo-229x300 Tower History

Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower) is a 110 story building in the heart of Chicago’s downtown. Willis Tower is not only one of the tallest buildings in the world, it is also a magnificent icon, impossible to miss within Chicago’s skyline.

In 1969, Sears Roebuck and Company was the largest retailer in the world, with about 350,000 employees. They decided they needed one large office space for their many employees. Architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill were commissioned to design what would become one of the largest office buildings in the world. Fazlur Khan, the structural engineer, designed the “bundled tube” design that handled both wind and gravity.

In August, 1970 ground was broken for the beginning of construction. Taking three years to complete, Sears Tower was finished in May 1973. The builders used enough concrete to make an eight- lane highway five miles long. Within the building, there are 25 miles of plumbing, 1500 miles of electric wiring , 80 miles of elevator cable, 796 restroom faucets, and more than 145,000 light fixtures. The last beam put in place was signed by 12,000 construction workers, Sears employees and Chicagoans.

In 1988, Sears Roebuck and Company sold and moved out of the building, but the Sears Tower name remained until 2009 when the building was renamed after the Willis Group, a London- based global insurance broker.

Skydeck Chicago is the breathtaking, thrilling observatory destination atop the iconic Willis Tower. The highest observation deck in the United States, Skydeck provides views of the city spanning up to four states and 50 miles on a clear day. Named a World’s Top 10 Attraction, Skydeck features The Ledge; five glass floor balconies extending 4.3 feet from Willis Tower and stand 1,353 feet above Wacker Drive are made up of three layers of half-inch thick glass laminated into one seamless unit. After undergoing an extensive transformation, Skydeck offers a can’t miss, one-stop attraction to discover and see all that the city of Chicago offers from an incomparable vantage point. The reenergized attraction features a complete remodel of the 103rd floor including a fifth Ledge, an all-new lower-level, world class museum that celebrates the unique personality, history, neighborhoods and sites of Chicago, a new Skydeck Marketplace. 

World Class Museum Includes: 

  • Origins: Visitors will discover the history of Chicago; encounter the Great Chicago Fire; and walk through a glowing Chicago River tunnel, all while learning about the city during its formative years. 
  • Architecture: This section showcases an interactive fly-through video tour of the city known for its skyline, ending at the iconic Willis Tower. Guests will then have the chance to pose next to floor-to[1]ceiling Tower antennas to capture the perfect social media shot. 
  • ‘L’ Train: Visitors can hop aboard a full-scale ‘L’ train replica and tour a plethora of vibrant Chicago neighborhoods by viewing the windows’ pass-through video displays. 
  • Taste of Chicago: Here, visitors can strike a pose on the larger-than-life deep-dish pizza platform or grab a seat on the nine-foot long, Chicago-style hotdog bench.
  • Characters: Guests will have the opportunity to tell jokes on a Second City stage and pose with Chicago icons, such as Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey. 
  • Streetscapes: This section allows visitors to connect with some of the city’s landmarks, including the legendary Wrigley Field marquee, Cloud Gate (The Bean) and more. 
  • Urban Playground: This vibrant area immerses visitors into the city through animations of Chicago moments and celebrations, leaving a lasting impression of what makes the energetic metropolis so extraordinary. The transformation on the 103rd floor observation deck includes: 
  • Fresh design features and interactive monitors, providing a space to inspire guests poses and allow visitors to upload and display their Ledge social media photos. 
  •  An interactive sequin wall where guests are invited to leave a mark on the city through creating drawings or messages.

Complete your Skydeck experience by exploring Catalog at Willis Tower, accessible via the new Jackson Boulevard entrance. Catalog is an evolving, five-level urban destination, featuring new dining options..

Now Open: Kindling, Color Factory, Foxtrot, Convene, Market Creations, Joe and the Juice, Tortazo, Brown Bag Seafood, Do-Rite Donuts & Chicken, Fifth Third Bank, Shake Shack, Sushi-San, Sweetgreen and Starbucks.

 Click here for more information about Willis Tower

Love For Our Environment

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In 2019, Willis Tower became the largest building in the United States to earn the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’s (“LEED”) Platinum designation –the most prestigious designation a building can receive through the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) rating system.

Developed by the USGBC, LEED is the most widely used green building rating system in the world and an international symbol of excellence. Through design, construction and operations practices that improve environmental and human health, LEED-certified buildings are helping to make the world more sustainable.

By making upgrades to things like the building’s HVAC system, lighting control system, restroom fixtures, and hot-water boilers, Willis Tower was able to recertify as LEED Platinum in 2022 and remains the largest building in the U.S. to obtain this achievement.

The team at Willis is dedicated in continued efforts to make the tower a more comfortable, efficient, and sustainable place to work and play.

Click here for more information.