Skidmore, Owings & Merrill • SOM, the original designer of the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower), was charged with enhancing the Chicago landmark with an innovative addition that wouldn’t compromise its original spirit. A team of architects and engineers responded with a proposal for The Ledge at Skydeck Chicago, a set of four movable glass viewing platforms that extend beyond the building’s west façade, 103 stories in the air. Each ledge moves in and out of the building: it can be recessed into the interior space, flush with the façade, or fully extended. The structural glass boxes can support the weight of an elephant and endure thousands of visitors daily. Jurors lauded the team for taking an experience—visiting the 103rd-floor viewing area—that was growing tired as a recreational destination and introducing a new “wow” factor. Now visitation has spiked. “The Willis Tower is trying to refashion itself … to recycle a skyscraper,” said juror Donna Robertson, who has visited the project. “It’s a pretty thrilling experience.” Juror Scott Kilbourn, however, questioned whether the experience is merely a one-liner: “I mean, you go there and you stand—what do you do? You just stand for 30 seconds.” Robertson’s response: “Yeah, and your heart drops out of your throat.”

Project Credits

The Ledge at Skydeck Chicago, Chicago
Client U.S. Equities Realty
Owner American Landmark Properties
Architect Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Chicago
General Contractor Berglund Construction Co.
Structural Engineer Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Glass/Architectural Metal Contractor MTH Industries
Lighting Schuler Shook
Graphics/Renderings ImageFiction
Size 3,500 square feet
Cost Withheld
Photography Randy Stancik