ML - Michigan Avenue

2013 - Issue 3 - May/June

Michigan Avenue - Niche Media - Michigan Avenue magazine is a luxury lifestyle magazine centered around Chicago’s finest people, events, fashion, health & beauty, fine dining & more!

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Page 110 of 147

Taipei 101 after six short years (Sears had kept the crown for 25). Then came September 11, 2001, and everyone wondered out loud if the era of the mega-skyscraper was not going the way of... well, old-line retail stores. PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF WILLIS TOWER (SKYDECK LEDGE) A LIVING ICON Willis Tower isn't going anywhere, of course. As prime real estate Willis had rough years rentalwise, but has come around, according to Bob Wislow, CEO of US Equities, managing broker since 2007 for the building now owned by a group that includes American Landmark Properties Ltd. of Skokie. "Timing is everything," Wislow says. The 9/11 hangover has lifted. Occupancy is now more than 85 percent and rising. With big floor plates that can be configured for maximum productivity (commercial real estate's new catchword), the Tower competes for big tenants and won United Airlines, which has settled into 860,000 square feet—most on once-hard-to-rent lower floors. It's also the intangibles, naturally. "All I have to do around the country is say that we're in Willis Tower," says Peter C. John, of the law firm Williams Montgomery & John, adding that the new name is as famous as the building. Then there's Skydeck, recently refurbished and more popular than ever with its protruding glass floors, and "The Ledge," suspending visitors over a sheer 1,353 feet drop. "We're in the memory business," says Randy Stancik, vice president of US Equities and general manager of the Skydeck Chicago. As for other skyscrapers, Willis Tower remains the standard against which other super-tall structures must be judged. It will keep the Tallest in North America title until One World Trade Center in New York is completed this year. More important is Willis Tower's pedigree as a milestone for SOM, still preeminent in skyscrapers worldwide. For Willis Tower, the design process was a classic collaboration of architects and engineers working hand-in-glove. That is how SOM still does it. But true icons of architecture represent more than feats of engineering or the vagaries of passing trends. They evoke indelible memories. The Empire State Building, once the world's tallest, is still a striking symbol of the Jazz Age in Manhattan. In Chicago, the Willis Tower symbolizes a period when Chicago asserted itself in the world, when its influence in commerce, in politics, and in culture finally overshadowed the rat-a-tat of Al Capone. Chicago was already a great American city in 1973, when the tower went up, city of big shoulders, the birthplace of the skyscraper, a "city on the make." But in 1973 Chicago finally got its icon, which still expresses audacity, intelligence, and ambition in a building that, while no longer the tallest, is still one of the most famous in the world. MA THE CRITICS WEIGH IN ARCHITECTURE EXPERTS DISCUSS THE WILLIS TOWER'S SIGNIFICANCE. FORM AND FUNCTION: In the 1990s some said it was a monument past its prime. But among architects, "there's a new respect for [Willis] Tower in the way it emerges with a very clear geometry," says James von Klemperer, of leading New York– based skyscraper designer Kohn Pedersen Fox. "It's a reductive approach to the tall building, but at the same time romantic—a kind of spiraling of forms." Elegant simplicity remains the message. STYLE OF THE CITY: Although Willis Tower's bundled tube-frame construction may be obsolete (architecture can engineer lighter and more economical buildings), that hardly diminishes its design's importance, says Tom Leslie, Pickard Chilton Professor of Architecture at Iowa State University. "It has a personality that fits Chicago so well, the city of [big] shoulders." Author of Chicago Skyscrapers, 1871-1934, Leslie adds that Chicago's pride in having been home to the tallest building in the world between 1973 and 1998 has not worn off, as skyscraper rivalry with New York had been ongoing since 1880. HOMETOWN RIVAL: Strangely, Willis Tower's chief rival for love—if not influence—is only a mile or so away, only three years older, and designed by the same architectural team. "[Willis] Tower never got the love that John Hancock did," says David Jameson of ArchiTech Gallery, a dealer in architectural drawings and photographs in River North. He says the taper of the Hancock building's profile is one reason. Its location on North Michigan Avenue and popular mixed-use function also help. PRACTICAL MATTERS: Beyond questions of taste, architects are keenly aware that the Willis Tower's structure represents aspects of efficiency that remain key to skyscraper design. For example, Willis Tower represents an important example of double-decker elevator cabs, according to Grant Uhlir of the architecture and design firm Gensler, who studied the "vertical movement of people" as project director of Shanghai Tower, which when completed will be the second-tallest building in the world. Uhlir also notes that the big floor plates, such as those on the lower stories of Willis Tower, which were considered too large in the 1990s, are just right for current standards. "Today, the trend in urban settings is to have everyone on the same floor," he says. AS TIME GOES BY: Time is good to good buildings, and it has been good to Willis Tower. "At first [Willis] was more admired for structural innovation than for architectural detail," says James Goettsch of Goettsch Partners, the Chicago firm that designs tall buildings all over the world. "But it's become such a powerful image on the skyline.... It's beyond beauty. It was just so remarkable that someone could build something so big." MICHIGANAVEMAG.COM 104-109_MA_FEAT_Heritage_Sum_Fall_13.indd 109 109 4/16/13 6:03 PM

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