PARTIAL WIN: Willis Tower Lobby Renovated, But Calder’s Universe Sculpture Hasn’t Returned (Chicago 7 2017)

2022 Base Remodel. Willis Tower / Sears Tower, 1973, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill with Bruce Graham and Fazlur Khan, 233 S. Wacker Drive. Photo Credit: Lynn Becker
Wave Wall. Willis Tower / Sears Tower, 1973, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill with Bruce Graham and Fazlur Khan, 233 S. Wacker Drive. Photo Credit: Garrett Rowland
The Universe, 1974, Alexander Calder, located in the Sears Tower Lobby until it vanished in 2017. Willis Tower / Sears Tower, 1973, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill with Bruce Graham and Fazlur Khan, 233 S. Wacker Drive. Photo Credit: Ward Miller / Preservation Chicago

“When Sears Tower opened in 1974, its status as the tallest building in the world kept people looking upward, serving to distract from its rather awkward meeting with the ground. The tower sat amidst a sprawling plaza that only met the sidewalk along Wacker Drive. At Franklin Street, the plaza was a full story above the sidewalk, and along Adams Street and Jackson Boulevard, its slope kept sidewalks and plaza apart.

“This unfortunate situation has been revisited virtually every decade since. By the 1980s, a new front door had been installed facing Wacker, set into a glass structure that bore an unfortunate similarity to an old-fashioned mailbox. Later renovations struggled with the balance between public and private, indoors and out.

“Recently completed, the new 300,000-square-feet renovation designed by the local office of Gensler eliminates the outdoor plaza entirely in favor of a one- to three-stories-tall infill structure that surrounds the tower and brings the complex’s built form to the sidewalk’s edge on all sides.

“Most non-Willis Tower workers are likely to find the Jackson entrance easiest, as you enter into a three-story-tall skylit space that houses the bulk of downtown’s newest food hall. If you’re looking for the Skydeck, you’ll need to descend two levels via escalator within this space.

“Access to the elevators for the tower, where security has reigned supreme for the last two decades, has been discretely handled. I was able to walk rather easily from Wacker to Franklin to Jackson within the building without much obstruction or wandering into secure areas. Given that the structure of the 108-story-tall tower and its elevators are elements that can be rearranged, this isn’t an easy accomplishment.

“While there are a number of new large-scale sculptures located throughout the public spaces, the apparent loss of Alexander Calder’s kinetic Universe sculpture, part of the building’s original lobby that had remained until recently, is a sad development.

“However, the addition of Olafur Eliasson’s wave wall along the new streetscape on Jackson is a positive note. Inspired by the movement and colors of Lake Michigan, it’s an excellent addition to our Loop public sculpture.

“As we look hopefully for a new awakening of post-pandemic Chicago, the Willis Tower reboot proves that this new era of urban life is likely to be marked by more overtly private spaces masquerading as public space. We need to be more vigilant than ever in requiring that cities are places where all can be welcome and be together. To accept anything less is simply unacceptable.” (Keegan, Crain’s Chicago Business, 6/6/22)

Read the full story at Crain’s Chicago Business

Willis Tower again tries to solve its street-level problem: Architecture review; The Willis renovation proves that this new era of urban life is likely to be marked by overtly private spaces masquerading as public space, Edward Keegan, Crain’s Chicago Business, 6/6/22

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