The Tallest Building in Chicago: Willis Tower


I’ve come across another interesting skyscraper: the Willis Tower in Chicago. It’s that tall, black tower that looks like Batman’s house. I wouldn’t say it’s the most beautiful building in the world, but it’s certainly different and thus interesting. Would you like to learn more about it and what it looks like?

The Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, is a significant part of Chicago’s skyline. With its impressive height of 443.2 meters (or 527.3 meters if you include the antennas), it’s a landmark impossible to overlook. When you gaze upon the city’s silhouette, your eyes will likely first land on this stunning skyscraper that towers high above all else. From its completion in 1973 until 1998, the Willis Tower was the tallest building in the world. Today, it remains the tallest tower in Chicago and the second-tallest in the United States.

In this article, we’ve conducted a detailed study of the Willis Tower. We’ll discuss its history, architecture, tourist attractions, influence on the city of Chicago, and role in modern times. Why has the Willis Tower become so iconic in Chicago, and how has it shaped the city’s image? And of course, since we’re photographers, there will be plenty of photos and tips on when and how to photograph this skyscraper. Let’s embark on a journey through this skyscraper, which still towers high above Chicago.

The tallest building in Chicago, Willis Tower: history

A towering marvel: The awe-inspiring Willis Tower defines Chicago's skyline.
A towering marvel: The awe-inspiring Willis Tower defines Chicago’s skyline.

Origins and Construction

The history of the Willis Tower began in 1969. At that time, Sears, Roebuck & Co. sought plans for a new company headquarters. They needed ample space for their 350,000 employees. They selected architect Bruce Graham and engineer Fazlur Rahman Khan from the company Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. They designed a revolutionary concept known as the “bundled tube” structure.

The skyscraper was completed in 1973. With its height, the tower immediately overshadowed the previous record held by the World Trade Center in New York and became the tallest building in the world. It held this title until 1998.

Renamed to Willis Tower

Although the building is widely known as the Sears Tower, its official name was changed to the Willis Tower in 2009. This was after the London-based insurance company Willis Group Holdings leased several floors in the building and acquired naming rights.

The name change was not without controversy. Many Chicago residents opposed the renaming, believing that the Sears Tower was part of their cultural heritage. Despite the resistance, the renaming stuck, although some Chicago residents still affectionately use the original name.

Willis Tower: location and information

This impressive structure is located at 233 South Wacker Drive, in the heart of Chicago, where it is surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the city center. This monumental building, once known as the Sears Tower, offers a stunning view of Chicago and is a key destination for all visiting the city.

If you want to learn more about the Willis Tower, here are a few websites you should visit:

Here you can find all the information about the history and architecture of the Willis Tower, as well as information about space rental and events in the building.

This is the official site for the Skydeck, the observation deck of the Willis Tower, which is on the 103rd floor. The website includes information about tickets, timeframes, and special events.

This website is an excellent source for reviews of the Willis Tower and Skydeck. In addition to the opinions of other visitors, you can also find suggestions for nearby attractions and restaurants.

The architecture of Willis Tower

An iconic marvel of architectural prowess: Willis Tower's sleek design and soaring heights redefine Chicago's skyline.
An iconic marvel of architectural prowess: Willis Tower’s sleek design and soaring heights redefine Chicago’s skyline.

Design and unique features

The architecture of the Willis Tower is revolutionary as it is based on the “bundled tube” concept. This innovative design, created by Fazlur Rahman Khan, took the construction of skyscrapers to a new level. The design consists of nine square “tubes” designed to support the entire structure. Each “tube” rises 50 stories high, then gradually decreases until only one remains, reaching a height of 110 stories.

Innovations and technological achievements

A crucial innovation in the construction of the Willis Tower was the use of lightweight but strong steel, which enabled building at such a great height. The “bundled tube” design allowed for greater structural stability and more flexibility in designing the building’s exterior. This facilitated the creation of the iconic silhouette it possesses today.

Handling natural stresses

The building was designed to withstand the strong winds often experienced in Chicago, also known as the “Windy City”. The innovative “bundled tube” structure allows the force of the wind to be transferred through the entire building, thus reducing sway. The Willis Tower is also equipped with state-of-the-art damping devices that further assist in managing wind and other natural forces. Because of these technological and architectural innovations, the Willis Tower is one of the most stable and safest skyscrapers in the world.

Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower

Reaching for the skies: Skydeck Chicago offers breathtaking views from the pinnacle of Willis Tower.
Reaching for the skies: Skydeck Chicago offers breathtaking views from the pinnacle of Willis Tower.

The Skydeck as the Main Attraction

Skydeck Chicago’s Willis Tower is the main tourist attraction, visited by several million people each year. Located on the tower’s 103rd floor, it offers visitors a unique experience with a spectacular view of the city. On clear days, it’s possible to see four neighboring states: Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois. Truly impressive.

The Visiting Experience and “The Ledge”

A visit to the Skydeck is undoubtedly an unforgettable experience. The glass balcony known as “The Ledge” offers a particularly special thrill. This balcony is made entirely of glass, including the floor, and extends about 1.2 meters outside the building. Visitors brave enough to step onto “The Ledge” experience a feeling of hovering above the city. The experience is both exciting and a bit intimidating, but it provides one of the most unique views of Chicago.

In addition to “The Ledge”, various events take place at the Skydeck, such as private dinners, weddings, and even yoga sessions. A visit to the Skydeck is a must for both locals and tourists. The skyscraper offers an unforgettable experience and a city view you won’t find anywhere else.

The influence of the Willis Tower on the city of Chicago

Elevating the city's spirit: The profound influence of Willis Tower on Chicago's skyline, culture, and aspirations.
Elevating the city’s spirit: The profound influence of Willis Tower on Chicago’s skyline, culture, and aspirations.

Business and Cultural Impact

Since its construction, the Willis Tower has played a key role in the business and cultural life of Chicago. Originally designed as the headquarters for Sears, Roebuck & Co., one of the largest retail companies at the time, today it is home to numerous companies from various industries that appreciate its prestigious location and iconic status.

Culturally, the Willis Tower is an integral part of the city’s identity. Its silhouette has become synonymous with Chicago, featured in countless photographs, posters, and souvenirs. It has also become a significant part of the city’s cultural history, serving as the venue for many events, including film shoots and television shows.

Willis Tower as a Symbol of Chicago

The Willis Tower is more than just a building; it is a symbol of Chicago, representing the city in its finest light. The building is synonymous with innovation, audacity, and the American spirit. Through the decades, it has remained a symbol of strength and resilience, despite the renaming and changes in the cityscape.

In the eyes of the city’s residents and visitors, the Willis Tower is an icon that symbolizes both Chicago’s past and future. It contributes to the city’s unique image and remains one of the most recognizable points in Chicago’s skyline.

Willis Tower today

Today's architectural triumph: A towering icon that defines Chicago's majestic skyline.
Today’s architectural triumph: A towering icon that defines Chicago’s majestic skyline.

Current Status and Development Projects

Today, the Willis Tower remains a significant business hub, attracting numerous companies from various industries. In recent years, the building has undergone numerous renovations to stay modern and competitive. A multimillion-dollar renovation project called “Willis Tower Repositioning” was completed in 2020. It included renovating the entrance lobby and adding new retail outlets, restaurants, and other infrastructure to enhance the experience for visitors and tenants.

Willis Tower as a Sustainable Building

The Willis Tower is committed to sustainable practices and is among the leading skyscrapers in the field of green construction. In 2018, the building achieved LEED Gold certification, confirming its commitment to energy efficiency and environmental responsibility. Measures include advanced energy systems, water efficiency, innovative waste management strategies, and promoting sustainable mobility for employees and visitors.

For the Willis Tower, it is not only important to remain an iconic structure and popular tourist destination but also to lead the way towards a sustainable future. These efforts indicate that the Willis Tower will remain an important part of the city of Chicago for many years to come.

Photographing the Willis Tower

The best photography spots

Finally, we’ve reached the part of the article for the photographers. Photographing the Willis Tower is a popular activity for both locals and tourists. There are several spots in the city where you can get excellent shots. One of the most popular is the famous Grant Park, which offers a great view of the entire city skyline with the Willis Tower in the foreground. Other popular locations include North Avenue Beach and the John Hancock Center viewpoint.

Photography tips

For the best photos of the Willis Tower, try to take advantage of the golden hour, the short period after sunrise or before sunset when the light is softest and warmest. This time of day brings gentle, warm light that can highlight details and add depth to your photos. The golden hour, the black skyscraper with lit windows—you can imagine this effect. Also, remember to use the rule of thirds for a more balanced and aesthetically pleasing composition.

Photographing from the Top of the Willis Tower

If you have the opportunity to visit the Skydeck, don’t forget to take your camera with you. The view from the top offers stunning panoramic shots of Chicago. The glass balcony, “The Ledge,” is also a unique place for distinctive photos, where you can take “floating” selfies or dramatic shots of the city below you. Don’t forget to experiment.

The Willis Tower is a great location for improving your photography skills and capturing some of the most iconic views of the city of Chicago. Regardless of what kind of photographer you are, this is a fantastic opportunity to create beautiful photos.

Instagram hashtags for Willis Tower photos

Of course, it’s essential to share our photos with friends and family, or even business partners. Instagram is an excellent tool for sharing your amazing Willis Tower photographs. To ensure your photos reach a wider audience, consider using popular hashtags related to Willis Tower.

Some of these include:

  • #WillisTower
  • #SkydeckChicago
  • #TheLedge
  • #ChicagoSkyline
  • #ChicagoArchitecture

Also, make use of general hashtags like:

  • #Travel
  • #Cityscape
  • #Skyscraper
  • #Photography

Using these hashtags will help your photos reach more people and increase their likelihood of being noticed and appreciated. Add a link to your Instagram post in the comments. You will gain many new followers and likes.

The 10 tallest buildings in Chicago

To not focus solely on the tallest building, I’ve prepared a list of the top 10 tallest buildings in Chicago. Chicago is a city that has marked the history of modern skyscrapers. Known as the birthplace of skyscrapers, Chicago still remains home to many impressive buildings that rise high above the city. These skyscrapers shape its recognizable skyline and give the city its unforgettable character. Skyscrapers stand out not only for their height but also for their architecture, history, and role in the life of this exciting city.

Reaching new heights: Chicago's skyline showcases the city's 10 tallest architectural marvels.
Reaching new heights: Chicago’s skyline showcases the city’s 10 tallest architectural marvels.

So, what are the 10 tallest buildings in Chicago?

  1. Willis Tower (as Sears Tower): This iconic building, with a height of 442.1 meters, is the tallest in Chicago and was the tallest in the world until 1998.
  2. Trump International Hotel and Tower: This skyscraper rises to 423.4 meters high and took the second spot upon its completion in 2009.
  3. Aon Center: This building is the third tallest in the city at 346.3 meters. It was completed in 1973.
  4. John Hancock Center: This building stands at 343.5 meters high and boasts the famous 360 Chicago Observation Deck.
  5. St. Regis Chicago (as Vista Tower): This is one of the newest additions, standing at 362 meters high.
  6. Two Prudential Plaza: This building rises 303.3 meters above the ground.
  7. 875 North Michigan Avenue (as John Hancock Center): This impressive building stands 344 meters tall.
  8. Franklin Center (as AT&T Corporate Center): With its height of 307 meters, it’s the eighth tallest building in the city.
  9. NEMA Chicago: This 273-meter-tall skyscraper is one of the tallest residential buildings in Chicago.
  10. Joffrey Tower: Standing at 244 meters, it is the tenth tallest building in the city.

These impressive buildings together form the unique skyline of the city of Chicago.

Frequently asked questions and answers about Willis Tower

I’ve found a lot of interesting questions about the Willis Tower on the internet. I sought out answers to some of the most fascinating and common questions.

What is special about Willis Tower?

Willis Tower is unique for several reasons. Firstly, when it was completed in 1973, it was the tallest skyscraper in the world. It held this record until 1998. Secondly, it was designed using a pioneering tube-in-tube design, which allowed for its high elevation. Willis Tower is home to the Skydeck, a tourist attraction featuring a unique glass balcony known as “The Ledge”. It offers visitors breathtaking views of the city of Chicago.

Unmatched in distinction: Discovering the extraordinary elements that set apart this iconic Chicago skyscraper.
Unmatched in distinction: Discovering the extraordinary elements that set apart this iconic Chicago skyscraper.

Is Willis Tower the tallest?

No, the Willis Tower is no longer the tallest skyscraper in the world. As of September 2021, the tallest building in the world is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which stands at 828 meters. Willis Tower is currently one of the tallest buildings in the U.S. and the tallest in Chicago.

Is Willis Tower taller than Burj Khalifa?

No, Willis Tower is not taller than Burj Khalifa. Burj Khalifa in Dubai is currently the tallest building in the world, standing at 828 meters, while Willis Tower stands at 442.1 meters.

Why is it now called Willis Tower?

The building was originally named Sears Tower, as it was originally constructed for the Sears Roebuck company. In 2009, London insurance company Willis Group Holdings obtained the naming rights to the building in exchange for leasing space in it. This led to the name change to Willis Tower.

Is the Willis Tower taller than the Eiffel Tower?

Yes, the Willis Tower is taller than the Eiffel Tower. The Willis Tower stands at 442.1 meters, while the Eiffel Tower, including its antennas, is 330 meters tall.

Can you get to the top of Willis Tower for free?

No, entry to Skydeck Chicago, located at the top of Willis Tower, is not free. The ticket price can vary, so it is best to check their official website for the most recent information.

How many stairs are there in Willis Tower?

There are 2,109 steps in Willis Tower from the ground floor to the 103rd floor, where the Skydeck is located.

How many floors does Willis Tower have?

Willis Tower has a total of 110 floors. Skydeck Chicago is located on the 103rd floor.

Why is Willis Tower dark?

The color of Willis Tower is a result of the building’s exterior cladding, which is made of bronze-tinted glass and aluminum. This material gives the building its dark, almost black appearance. Additionally, the building’s nighttime illumination is not as intense as some other tall buildings, which can make Willis Tower appear darker at night.


We have come to the conclusion of yet another intriguing tower. The Willis Tower is more than just an architectural achievement; it is a symbol of power, innovation, and endurance, exemplifying the spirit of the city of Chicago. Despite no longer being the tallest building in the world, its presence continues to inspire awe and respect. With its distinctive silhouette, impressive height, and historical significance, Willis Tower remains one of the most recognizable structures globally.

For anyone visiting Chicago, a trip to the Willis Tower is undoubtedly on their must-experience list. Whether you ascend to the Skydeck and step onto the glass balcony known as “The Ledge”, admire the building from below, or simply marvel at it from afar, the Willis Tower experience is something that leaves a lasting impression.

So, the next time you’re in Chicago, make sure to take the time to visit this iconic skyscraper. There is no better way to experience the grandeur of the city than from atop Willis Tower.

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See you in Chicago!

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