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Willis Tower
Sears Tower ss.jpg
Willis Tower
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General information
Type Office, observation, communication
Location 233 S. Wacker Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60606
United States
Construction started 1970
Completed 1973
Antenna spire 527 m (1,730)
Technical details
Floor count 108
Design and construction
Architect Fazlur Khan, Bruce Graham

Willis Tower is a skyscraper in Chicago, Illinois. Sears, Roebuck & Company paid for it to be built in August 1970. The building was finished in 1973. It was the tallest building in the world from 1973 to 1996. It has 108 levels. From the ground to the roof it is 442 meters (1,450 feet) tall. It was designed by Fazlur Khan and Bruce Graham.

Willis Tower is the second-tallest building in the United States. It is the eighth-tallest freestanding structure in the world. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Chicago. More than one million people visit its observation deck every year.

Until July 16, 2009, the building was called Sears Tower. It was renamed after the Willis Group bought it.


Sears Willis Tower
Then-Sears Tower during its construction, c. 1973

In 1969, Sears, Roebuck & Company was the largest retailer in the world. It had thousands of workers in offices in the Chicago area. Sears managers decided to put all of those workers into one building. They wanted 3,000,000 square feet (280,000 square meters) of space. Sears hired architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) to design one of the largest office buildings in the world. Architect Bruce Graham and structural engineer Fazlur Khan designed the building.

Sears and the City of Chicago approved the design. The first steel was put in place in April 1971. The tower was completed in May 1973. It cost about US$150 million to build. That is equivalent to $800 million in 2014.

The building was built with a fire sprinkler system, even though it wasn't required at the time. There are about 40,000 sprinkler heads in the building. The sprinkler system cost $4 million.

In February 1982, two television antennas were added to the tower. That made the building 1,707 feet (520 meters) tall. On June 5, 2000, the western antenna was made longer to improve reception of local NBC. That made the overall height 1,730 feet (527 meters)

Before Willis Tower was completed, the tallest building in the world was the World Trade Center. In 1996, the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia became the world's tallest buildings.

Name rights

The building was renamed Willis Tower in July 2009 after the Willis Group bought the skyscraper. Time magazine called the name change one of the top 10 worst corporate name changes. An online petition was created to change their decision. The naming rights issue continued into 2013. It began when a news reporter of the Chicago Tribune said in 2013 that "We're stubborn about such things. This month marked four years since the former Sears Tower was re-christened Willis Tower, and the new name has yet to stick."


Willis Tower tube structure
The structure's design
The Willis Tower, compared to other well-known skyscrapers

Skidmore architects designed Willis Tower to have large floors of 55,000 square feet (5,100 square meters) in the lower part of the building. They got the idea for the design from an advertisement for a package of cigarettes.


From the ground to the top of the taller antenna, Willis Tower is 1,729 feet (527 meters) tall. It leans about 4 inches (10 centimeters) towards the west because of the unequal loads on its foundation. Willis Tower is the third tallest skyscraper in North America. The observatory elevators in the tower are the fastest in the world at 1,600 feet (490 meters) per minute. With clear weather, four states can be seen from the observation deck: Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

On November 8, 2013, architects in Chicago and New York City started talking about the height of the One World Trade Center. They were saying that Willis Tower might be taller. On November 12, it was confirmed that One World Trade Center is taller than the Willis Tower.

Willis Tower - Skydeck
The skydeck from outside the tower

The Skydeck

Willis Tower has an observation deck. It is called the Skydeck. It opened on June 22, 1974. It is on the 103rd floor of the building. It is 1,353 feet (412 meters) high. It is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Chicago. The observation deck is the highest public viewing area in the United States. Tourists on the Skydeck can feel the building moving on windy days. They can see the plains of Illinois and across Lake Michigan. Elevators take tourists to the top in about 60 seconds. People on the elevator can feel air pressure changes during the ride.

In January 2009, Willis Tower's owners began making major changes to the Skydeck. They added retractable glass balconies. The balconies extend about 4 feet (1.2 meters) from the tower. They allow visitors to look through the floor to the street below. The boxes can hold up to 5 short tons (4.5 metric tons) of weight. They were opened to the public on July 2, 2009.

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