Willis Tower Repositioning
Originally published Sept 21,2022
New life has been brought into one of Chicago’s most famous skyscrapers after a 500,000 sq. foot repositioning of the former Sears Tower – an American architectural icon and centerpiece of the city skyline for almost fifty years. In 2015, a massive mixed-use redevelopment of the site began, aiming to re-envision the tower “from street to sky.”
“Willis Tower may have been built in an era of single-use buildings and urban flight, but its next iteration consists of a modern mixture of uses with active streetscapes — welcoming to all.” – Architect Magazine
Located in the Western Loop in Chicago, Willis Tower has become more pedestrian friendly thanks to the addition of a new public retail and entertainment space known as the Catalog, designed by Gensler Chicago and SKB Architects. The new podium at the base of the skyscraper produces a stunning first impression with large terra cotta portals at the East Wacker entrance, manufactured by Boston Valley. The TerraClad® rainscreen treatment is carried into the interior of the Catalog, creating a grand entrance that’s fitting for such a memorable building.
The Catalog is named in homage to the skyscraper’s original tenant: the Sears Roebuck Company, whose furniture catalogs changed the American consumer experience forever. The five story pavilion creates a welcoming communal experience for both Willis Tower visitors and workers with a new food hall, skylight and a sizable rooftop green space. Willis Tower is the tallest building in Illinois, and it was the worlds’s tallest building at the time of its construction in 1973. Originally designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the building stands at 1,450 feet with 110 stories.
Boston Valley Terra Cotta manufactured panels for the entranceway, interior and exterior façades of Willis Tower. The TerraClad® rainscreen is made of numerous extruded terra cotta panels, featuring a white glaze at the main entry and a natural grey palette for the exterior and interior panels. White glazes are popular in our various new build applications due to their elegance and simplicity, while the assorted monochromatic grey glazes add visual interest to more linear paneled designs.
While honoring the Tower’s original glass and metal aesthetic, the new podium offers a more textural and tactile design at a human-scale. As a nod to the rich history of its usage in the Loop, terra cotta was incorporated at the streetscape level to add visual interest and at the main entries to provide visual contrast. – Architect Magazine
Willis Tower also sets a standard for supertall sustainability, achieving LEED Platinum status by increasing efficiency and reducing waste.
Header Image: ©Tom Harris. Design by Gensler