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5 Things You Didn’t Know About the Willis Tower

5 Things You Didn’t Know About the Willis Tower featured image


There’s a reason that the Willis Tower’s Skydeck is a top attraction on our Chicago student tours. This 104th floor observation deck has amazing views that extend to Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana. Before you take off to the Windy City for a chance to see this iconic building, discover some unexpected facts about it.

A Change in Plans

Chicago’s 110-story building was originally planned to be only 40 stories. In the 1960’s when Sears, Roebuck Co. began planning a building for their headquarters, they envisioned a 40-story tower with each floor covering 110,000 square feet. They found, however, that renters wanted much less space per floor, so the building’s design plan became increasingly vertical.  When one plan called for 104-stories, the company decided to top the building off with a few more in order to make it the world’s tallest.

Three Acres of Hot Property

The footprint of the Willis Tower is nearly three acres, and that amount of land doesn’t come easy in downtown Chicago. A total of fifteen buildings had to be knocked down to provide space for this. Sears Roebuck also had to purchase a part of Quincy Street from the city of Chicago for $2.7 million. Taking up nearly two city blocks, the tower significantly altered the neighborhood’s landscape.

Inspired by Ferris Bueller

In the 1985 film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ferris, Cameron and Sloan visit the Skydeck and lean against the glass to get a view of the ground. After the film’s release, the folks working at the Skydeck noticed a lot of forehead prints on the window. Everyone wanted to get a look at the city from 1,353 feet up! That’s why they built “the Ledge,” a glass box that extends 4.3 feet from façade of the building.

How Do They Wash the Windows?

Being the window washer at the Willis Tower sounds like the scariest job ever. That’s why they let a robot do it. The tower has six automatic window robots that run on a system of tracks on the outsides of the building. Weighing in at 5,000 pounds, the robots clean windows at a rate of 45 feet per minute. They clean the entire building eight times every year.

Going Green

The Willis Tower has made significant environmental efforts, such as installing enhanced lighting system controls, initiating recycling programs and more. These efforts have been met with considerable success; since the 1980’s, the Willis Tower has reduced its greenhouse gas emission by 51 million pounds a year. It has also reduced electricity consumption by 35 percent since 1987. Further, the building provides free bicycles for tenants and discounted parking for hybrid vehicles.

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