Monday, December 2, 2013

Tower Tours

Your brave correspondent at Willis Tower "Skydeck Ledge", Chicago.
Trusting Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.
There's recently been a lively discussion, shall we say, over the title of "tallest building in America", or "tallest building in the Western Hemisphere." That last description circumvents consideration of Taipei 101, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpar, or anything the Middle East can come up with: Burj Khalifa in Dubai has been the tallest building in the world since 2010 and stands at 2,722 ft to the tip of its spire.

The Guardian outlines the issues. Fox News announces the "winner". One World Trade Center, with its 408 ft steel spire, measures 1,776ft. It's a symbolic reference to the year of the US Declaration of Independence. The contention is over whether its steel attachment is an antenna or a spire. If the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat had decided that it's an antenna, One World Trade Center would be reduced to a mere 1,368ft building – smaller than the 1,451ft Willis Tower in Chicago. However, to the chagrin of Chicagoans, the Council decided that the attachment was a spire - an integral part of the building. The spikes on top of the Willis Tower, which, if 'counted', would make it even higher still, are officially 'antennas.' Although the Willis Tower folk are remaining dignified through this dispute - Willis's top floor, at 1,354ft, will always be higher than the One World Trade Center’s 1,268 ft - Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel was heard to mutter, of the One World Trade Center spire: "If it looks like an antenna, and acts like an antenna, then it's probably an antenna."

Or, as the recently updated Wiki entry puts it:
Upon completion, One World Trade Center in New York City surpassed Willis Tower through its structural and pinnacle heights, but not by roof, observation deck elevation or highest occupied floor.

View East from the 103rd floor of Willis Tower.
Willis Tower, Chicago (source)
Willis Tower  began life as Sears Tower, and is still often referred to by that former name, such is the iconic stature of the building. The name change to 'Willis' dates from 2009; the building was completed in 1973. Here's Wiki on the tower.

The Sears Tower observation deck, called the Skydeck, opened in 1974. It's located on the 103rd floor of the tower, and is 1,353 feet (412 m) high. Tourists who venture up can experience how the building sways on a windy day, and can see far over the plains of Illinois and across Lake Michigan to Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin (on a clear day). The Skydeck competes with the John Hancock Center's observation floor across town, which is 323 feet (98 m) lower [John Hancock is 100-storeys and 1,127-foot (344 m) tall]

In 2009 Willis Tower's owners installed retractable glass balconies, extending out approximately four feet over Wacker Drive from the 103rd floor. They call this "The Skydeck". The all-glass boxes allow visitors to look through the floor to the street 1,353 feet (412 m) below. The boxes can, we're assured, bear five short tons of weight (about 4.5 metric tons). As you can see from the pic above, I trusted them on this....

However, I did want the FULL story before I ventured out over Chicago from 103 floors up, and here's what the brochure told me:
Original Sears Tower architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) designed The Ledge so that the fully enclosed glass boxes retract into the building, allowing easy access for cleaning and maintenance.
Experts in international structural glass design, Halcrow Yolles, fully designed and detailed all the glass and steel components. Beginning with the architect's original concept, the engineers took the design one step further by eliminating all perimeter structural steel at the sides and along the floor of the glass enclosures and creating a near-invisible support system.
MTH Industries, the Chicago-based 120-year-old glass and architectural metal contractor that installed the Cloud Gate in Millennium Park, installed The Ledge’s 1,500 pound glass panels. Each box is comprised of three layers of half-inch thick glass laminated into one seamless unit. The low-iron, clear glass is fully tempered for durability.
Looking north over Chicago from Willis Tower. The John Hanock Building is the black one in the centre.
The Skydeck.

One World Trade Center in New York City, the new "tallest building in America", has just opened for business. It will, I believe, have an observation deck for visitors but this is not yet operational. You can, however, rent an office there. New Yorkers, and all Americans, have been watching the building of the new tower with anticipation, and celebrated its completion this month. Here's a video of the workers installing the spire that enable the "Freedom Tower" to eclipse Willis:

One World Trade Center - "Freedom Tower", NYC
One World Trade Center facts:  1,787' Pinnacle / 1,373' Roof | 108 floors. The observation deck will be on the 100th to 102nd floors, once it opens.

Meanwhile, there are other options in New York City if you'd like to get a bird's eye view from a tall tower. The Empire State Building, completed in 1931 and standing 1,454' (443 m) high, has been welcoming visitors to its outdoor viewing platforms for many years. The observatory there is on the 86th floor. The Rockefeller Center is also well-known for its viewing platform called "The Top of The Rock", which is on top of the tallest building in the complex, the 1933 Art Deco skyscraper officially named the GE Building - 70 floors, 850' (259 m).

During construction, photographer Charles Clyde Ebbets took the famous photograph "Lunch atop a Skyscraper" on the 69th floor.

"Lunch atop a Skyscraper" 1930
On solid, er building, this time, On Top of The Rock. 70th floor.
Central Park in winter, from the 70th floor, Top of The Rock.

NYC from The Top of The Rock. The Empire State Building is centre left;
the new Freedom Tower is to its right, in the distance. You can even see lady Liberty from here.
The Rock at night.
The Rock is home to NBC, and the
famous 'Rainbow Room.'

Just so you're clear on the current state of play in "World's Tallest":

The new World Trade Center in NYC is now the fourth tallest building worldwide, behind Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, at 2,717 feet tall, Shanghai’s Shanghai Tower, at 2,074 feet tall, and the Makkah Royal Clock Tower in Mecca, which stands at 1,972 feet.

But it's all in how you measure these things, as Chicago has found out this month. Don't fret if you can't clim to be absolutely THE tallest - there's plenty more records you could list. Taipei 101 (101 stories above ground and 5 below), for example, is able to make these claims:

Upon its completion in 2004 Taipei 101 claimed the official records for:
Ground to highest architectural structure (spire): 508 m (1,667 ft). Previously held by the Petronas Towers 451.9 m (1,483 ft).
Ground to roof: 449.2 m (1,474 ft). Formerly held by the Willis Tower 442 m (1,450 ft).
Ground to highest occupied floor: 438 m (1,437 ft). Formerly held by the Willis Tower 412.4 m (1,353 ft).
Fastest ascending elevator speed: designed to be 1,010 meters per minute, which is 16.83 m/s (55.22 ft/s) (60.6 kilometres per hour (37.7 mph)).
Largest countdown clock: Displayed on New Year's Eve.
Tallest sundial. 

They're both, er, TALL.

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