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The Willis Tower, built and still commonly referred to as Sears Tower, is a 108-story, 442 m skyscraper in Chicago, Illinois, United States. At completion in 1973, it surpassed the World Trade Center towers in New York to become the tallest building in the world, a title it held for nearly 25 years. The Willis Tower is the second-tallest building in the United States and the 14th-tallest in the world. More than one million people visit its observation deck each year, making it one of Chicago’s most popular tourist destinations. The structure was renamed in 2009 by the Willis Group as part of its lease on a portion of the tower’s space.
Sears, which needed 280,000 m2 of office space for its planned consolidation and predicted that growth would require yet more, commissioned architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) to produce a structure to be one of the largest office buildings in the world. Their team of architect Bruce Graham and 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 (69 m) sides. All nine tubes would rise up to the 50th floor of the building. At the 50th floor, the northwest and southeast tubes end, and the remaining seven continue up. At the 66th floor, the northeast and the southwest tubes end. At the 90th floor, the north, east, and south tube’s end. The remaining west and center tubes continue up to the 108th floor.
Sears executives decided that the space they would immediately occupy should be efficiently designed to house their Merchandise Group, and that floor space for future growth would be rented out to smaller firms and businesses until Sears could retake it. The latter floor areas had to be designed to a smaller plate, with a high window-space to floor-space ratio, to be attractive and marketable to prospective lessees. Smaller floorplates required a taller structure to yield sufficient square footage. Skidmore architects proposed a tower with large 55,000-square-foot (5,100 m2) floors in the lower part of the building, and gradually tapered areas of floor plates in a series of setbacks, which would give the Sears Tower its distinctive look.
As Sears continued to offer optimistic projections for growth, the tower’s proposed floor count rapidly increased into the low hundreds, surpassing the height of New York’s unfinished World Trade Center to become the world’s tallest building. The height was restricted by a limit imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to protect air traffic. The financing of the tower was provided by the Sears company. It was topped with two antennas to permit local television and radio broadcasts. Sears and the City of Chicago approved the design, and the first steel was put in place in April 1971. The structure was completed in May 1974.
⇒ Architecture Guide to CHICAGO-ILLINOIS
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