$500 million investment will modernize Chicago’s Willis Tower

The project will be the first major renovation in the building’s 43-year history.

February 02, 2017 |

Rendering courtesy of Blackstone and Equity Office

When the Willis Tower (still called the Sears Tower by some of the more intransigent Chicagoans) was completed back in 1974 it was known around the world as the tallest building on the planet. A title it held for almost 25 years. Since that time, however, the Willis Tower has seen building after building surpass it in height. So many buildings, in fact, that it is no longer even in the top 10.

Not only have numerous buildings around the world passed the Willis Tower in height, but Chicago’s tallest building has also remained relatively static in terms of renovations and modernizations. A new $500 million investment, however, will change its somewhat outdated appearance and amenity selection in a big way. The renovation project will transform the tower and reinforce its position as a civic destination and a premier workplace with unprecedented office amenities and unique retail and entertainment experiences, the building’s owner, Blackstone, says in a release.

460,000 sf of existing space within Willis Tower will be reconfigured as part of the transformation. This includes 150,000 sf of space that will be turned into amenities available exclusively for tenants, such as a full-service fitness center, tenant lounges, private event space, and concierge services. 300,000 sf of retail, dining, and entertainment space will be added to the base of the tower and a new 30,000-sf outdoor deck and garden space will also be included. Blackstone promises the new retail and entertainment options will attract first-to-market restaurants and the best local boutiques and global brands.


Office lobby. Rendering courtesy of Blackstone and Equity Office.


Additionally, a new three-story transparent, glass structure will be set atop the existing stone plaza to create a more welcoming environment for visitors. But every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and below the three-story glass façade will exist three subterranean floors organized around a three-story winter garden. Above the garden will be a glass skylight that provides views of all 110 floors. The new design will set the Willis Tower free from the base it sits atop and reconnect the building with the urban streetscape.

Moving up from the building’s lower floors, the 103rd floor Skydeck Chicago experience will also be enhanced as part of the project. The Skydeck renovations will focus on creating a world class, one-of-a-kind entertainment experience for the 1.7 million national and international visitors that make the trip to the top of the tower annually.

Blackstone estimates the transformation of the tower, which is expected to begin this month, will create 2,500 jobs. Gensler is the architect for the project with Gonzalez Architects handling the design work for the tenant-only office amenities. Hetzel Design will oversee the design concepts for the Skydeck renovations while Turner Clayco will oversee construction.


Rendering courtesy of Blackstone and Equity Office.


Rendering courtesy of Blackstone and Equity Office.


Rendering courtesy of Blackstone and Equity Office.


Rendering courtesy of Blackstone and Equity Office.


Winter garden entrance. Rendering courtesy of Blackstone and Equity Office.


Winter garden skylight. Rendering courtesy of Blackstone and Equity Office.


Tower view from winter garden. Rendering courtesy of Blackstone and Equity Office.



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