Standing as the tallest building in the world for 25 years, the 110-story Willis Tower, built in 1973, has marked a major milestone in its transformation with the completion of a new Skydeck experience designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), Thinc Design, and Chicago Scenic Studios.
The renovation is the latest in SOM’s 50-year stewardship of Willis Tower, including the design of the tower itself, and the 2009 addition of the Ledge at the Skydeck—a series of glass-enclosed balconies offering visitors the opportunity to experience the city from 103 stories above ground.
“Willis Tower is synonymous with Chicago’s skyline. Envisioned in our studios more than 50 years ago, its design continues to inspire us today,” said Scott Duncan, SOM design partner. “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.”
Upon entering, guests are guided through an interactive exhibition that explores ways architecture shaped Chicago’s history and identity, complete with bronze models of the city’s most influential buildings. A fly-through video by Squint/Opera provides an immersive tour of the skyline.
An elevator ride to the 103rd floor reveals the transformed observation deck. Interior enhancements, improved lighting, and building technology upgrades allow for expanded views across the city. New interactive screens encourage visitors to learn more about Chicago’s historic architecture.
Now reopened to the public, the Skydeck was developed and led by EQ Office, the operator of Willis Tower, and constructed by RL Edward Partners and Clark Construction Group. Since 2017, Blackstone Group and EQ have undergone a comprehensive redevelopment of Willis Tower. As part of the renovation, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) awarded Willis Tower the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification. For the Skydeck, SOM led design for architecture, interiors, structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering.
“Skydeck has always been the best way for locals and visitors to see all of Chicago, and now we have dramatically expanded and elevated the experience beyond what anyone has seen before,” said David Moore, senior vice-president at EQ Office. “The new Skydeck experience celebrates hometown traditions and Chicago’s storied history, with incredible views that you cannot find anywhere else.”