Tallest Buildings In Chicago

Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) seen from Lake Michigan by day (left) and from downtown Chicago by night (right).
Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) seen from Lake Michigan by day (left) and from downtown Chicago by night (right).

History of Skyscrapers in Chicago

Chicago is home to a wide variety of skyscrapers that serve a variety of purposes, ranging from office to residential buildings. Architects and engineers have been at the foreground of architectural developments here since the beginning of modern-day construction initiatives. In order to take advantage of available space, building up became the new norm. But building residents were only willing to climb 5 flights of stairs before searching for housing elsewhere. Companies responded by marketing the passenger elevator around the 1860’s. Elevators allowed for taller building construction and increased the value of the highest floors. The Great Chicago Fire in 1871 forced the city to rebuild which resulted in new architectural styles and innovative building technology. Architectural innovators during this time were the first to utilize steel-frame construction and large plate glass to complete tall buildings in the years following the fire. Of the tallest buildings located in the city today, 5 of them are over 1,000 feet tall. They are discussed below.

Willis Tower, the Tallest Building in Chicago

The Willis Tower, also known as Sears Tower, is the tallest building in Chicago. It stands at 1,450 feet, holds 108 floors, and is located on the western side of Chicago’s Loop (the business district). Sears, Roebuck, and Co., once the largest retailer in the world, contracted an architectural firm to take on their much-needed office space project. Finished in 1973, the building held the title of “world’s tallest” for 25 years. It was the tallest building in the US until 2013 when the One World Trade Center took its spot. The Sears company sold the tower in 1994, but maintained naming rights through 2003. In 2009, the new owners renamed the building after insurance broker Willis Group Holdings, Ltd. which rented out more than 140,000 square feet of space. This new name will be in place until at least 2024 according to the contract. From its roof, various television and radio broadcasting antennas transmit signals across the city. Willis Tower has a stately presence along the city skyline.

As has been the case many tall buildings around the world, the Willis Tower has often been seen as a climbing challenge. And in 1981, somebody finally took on that challenge. A man wearing a Spiderman costume illegally climbed the outside of the tower. He did this using suction cups and camming devices, and the ascent took approximately 7 hours. Police were waiting for him at the top with charges of trespassing. Dan Goodwin, the climber, was released after claiming it had been done in protest of public high-rise rescue failures. Nearly 20 years later, an urban climber named Alain Robert again made the journey to the roof. He accomplished this with bare hands and feet as his only tools.

Chicago - A City of Many Skyscrapers

Considered the birthplace of the skyscraper, it’s not surprising that 4 of the 10 tallest buildings in the US are located here. The city has always been at the forefront of architectural design, and its second, third, fourth, and fifth tallest buildings are also all over 1,000 feet tall.

The second tallest building here is the Trump International Hotel and Tower standing at 1,389 feet in downtown Chicago. Consisting of 98 floors, views from this building look down on the Chicago River and out to Lake Michigan. This tower, finished in 2009, houses condos and hotel rooms and today, is the 4th tallest building in the US.

Following with a height of 1,136 feet is the Aon Center, formerly referred to as the Standard Oil Building. It currently holds the position of 7th highest building in the US and is located in the Chicago Loop. When construction finished in 1974 it was considered the 4th tallest building in the world and the tallest marble-clad structure. Remarkably, the design called for 43,000 pieces of Italian Carrara marble. This original marble was later removed and used in landscaping at the company’s refinery in Indiana and some was donated to Regalo under the Illinois Department of Rehabilitative Services. Here, 25 employees with disabilities hand-carved unique pieces for later sale.

The fourth tallest building is the John Hancock Center at 1,127 feet with 100 floors. Construction was completed in 1968 and today, the building houses condos, restaurants, and offices. The same Dan Goodwin previously mentioned climbed this building as well in protest of high-rise rescue tactics. From the observatory on the 94th floor, visitors can look out on Lake Michigan.

The final building standing at over 1,000 feet building in Chicago is the Franklin Center North Tower. Standing at 1,007 feet with 61 floors, this structure was completed in 1989 to house the AT&T Corporate Center. Inside are office, retail spaces, and a parking garage. The construction contract met with the city’s 1985 affirmative action public policy which stated that all public-sector projects must employ at least 30% minority and women-owned businesses. Although this building is private, the company wanted to show its support of the new ruling.

Tallest Buildings In Chicago

RankNameHeight in feetFloors
1Willis Tower1,450 108
2Trump International Hotel and Tower1,389 98
3Aon Center1,136 83
4John Hancock Center1,127 100
5Franklin Center North Tower1,007 61
6Two Prudential Plaza995 64
7311 South Wacker Drive961 65
8900 North Michigan871 66
9Water Tower Place85974
11Chase Tower85060
12Park Tower844 67
13The Legacy at Millennium Park82273
14300 North LaSalle784 60
15Three First National Plaza76757
16Grant Thornton Tower75550
17Blue Cross Blue Shield Tower74357
18One Museum Park72662
19Olympia Centre725 63
20330 North Wabash69552

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