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Willis Tower – the building formerly known and loved as the Sears Tower

Muscle and masculinity personified

The Sears Tower construction crews broke ground in 1970 and the building topped off in 1973 becoming the tallest building in the United States, a title that stood for about 25 years. The Venerable architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merril took on project led by architect Bruce Graham and architectural engineer, Fazlur Khan. Khan invented a construction technique utilizing construction tubes. The Sears Tower is actually nine buildings connected to the main tower by Khan’s tubes. Kahn’s engineering brilliance lives on. There is not a skyscraper in the world that doesn’t tip a hat to the engineer.

Sears was once the retail king/queen of the world – the Amazon of shopping in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. . As its business model faded so did its need for office space and the company eventually ended up leaving the legacy landmark. United Airlines is now the largest tenant. Trivia. There are 40,000 fire detectors in the building.

The Sears Tower has a little brother named “Big John” also known as the John Hancock Building. Same architect, same architectural engineer and agency. The Hancock topped off in 1969. Construction on the Sears started in 1970.

Chicago is rich in great architecture, but the Sears Tower and the John Hancock continue to serve as the most identifiable buildings in the city and perhaps the country. Here’s to courage, ingenuity and risk taking in world class Chicago architecture.

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El Rey de Chicago

El Rey de Chicago

Brown ones and round ones, short, stout, square and tall, and then there’s the Hancock, greater than all. A building. So what. It can stir child’s spirit, ambitious, aspire, inspire and make people a half mile away remember wonder. I love it because it’s a beacon and an archive of what and who we used to be. Decisions were made years at a time, not on the two year pathetic cycle of congressional races that forces decent men and women to continually posture and search for the worst in others. The Hancock was a huge gamble. So Skidmore huddled a mini Manhattan project. American guts, calculated gamblers and thousands of workers no better or worse than anyone else. The 22-year-old guys that walked those beams with swagger in ’67, ’68 and “69 are the only ones left from the project. They worked for 35 or 40 or maybe 26 years. What they share in common is the knowledge they helped build that building. Each of them talks as if they own it. And they do. At least part of it. They remember a 10 hours shift and afterward talk in the construction yard and glimpses of Bruce Graham and a hug from Fazlur Kahn, the humble and brilliant architect from the portion of Pakistan that eventually became Bangladesh. What could be more American than a migrant helping to shape the country. The John Hancock topped off in 1969.

A few weeks later, Apollo 11 touched down on the moon and Neil Armstrong talked about a giant step. There were a few of those giants steps in 1969 and the John Hancock is one of them.

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