Bringing an Icon Into the Future: Willis Tower

John Jory
PhD Candidate
Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane

Few buildings are as iconic as Willis Tower. Generations of Chicagoans have a collective memory of this building playing a role in their entire lives. We mark time with Willis Tower, but time has caught up with this aging supertall. The way the building engaged with the city and its occupants needed a fresh approach and understanding how Willis Tower is being reimagined by new owners is crucial to the success of old and new supertall towers around the globe.

The efforts of the design team have created a new path forward for Willis Tower. A new city block-sized podium structure and substantial infrastructure improvements are part of this work, and the results will have a dramatic effect on a piece of civic history while transforming the building into a destination for tenants and visitors alike. It is only fitting that since Chicago is the birthplace of the skyscraper and the supertall building typology, the solutions to how we ensure a vital urban center, which includes legacy tall buildings from the late mid-century modern movement, is explored here.

The design team was conscious of maintaining a people-centric planning approach, and considered important questions such as how people move in the city and how the new podium building will be a part of their daily routines. This presentation will explore such notions and consider technical solutions such as stack affect mitigation, façade detailing and the balance between historic preservation and the need for a new direction for the building. As we reshape iconic skyscrapers to meet the way people live and work today, we also learn about our society’s values.