SkB Architects is the collaborative design architect on the exterior of this significant new development, including the design of how the tower base meets the street, and the design of the tower’s three main entries. The design goal is to evolve the tower’s base to create an inviting and vibrant pedestrian experience, while honoring Willis Tower’s role as a unique Chicago and American icon: to create a sense of place, not just a place to work.
Catalog is composed of more than 300,000-square-feet of new retail, dining and entertainment space, along with 150,000-square-feet of new space for tenant use within the Tower, and a 30,000-square-feet deck and garden. The design will bring people in contact with the building to create an entirely new experience for the 15,000 people who work at Willis Tower, as well as countless Chicago residents and visitors.
“The era when spaces for ‘work’ and ‘life’ were completely separate from one another has passed,” notes Kyle Gaffney, co-designer and SkB co-founder. “Culturally, technologically and socially we’ve evolved to where we seek and find inspiration, collaboration and relaxation in a multitude of spaces—from where we live to where we work and everywhere in between. Our design goal is to create a stronger sense of place for the Willis Tower with the street-level experience becoming a desired destination for everyone in the community, not just for those who work in the building.”
Conceptually, the idea is for people to ‘own’ their experience in the Tower. As a Chicago icon, Willis Tower is everybody’s tower and people should feel invited in. “Being part of the team to reposition a Chicago icon such as the Willis Tower is an honor,” notes Steve Olson, project manager and SkB principal.
The material language developed by SkB Architects respects the existing tower, while enhancing the building’s visual and physical detail. It does so in a way that is human-scaled, modern, and approachable—an attitude in support of a sense of community. Major design elements vary in depth to create greater visual variety with respect to façade modulation. Textural and tactile variety is also employed, such as using patterned white terra cotta at the Wacker and Franklin Street entrances, and dark terra cotta to frame the retail storefronts along the canopies.
Other design elements include: 1) Designing building entries that are tuned to their users and the neighborhood. For example, the Jackson Street entry is composed largely of glass since it is the main public entry point for the retail podium and Tower Hall, and as such, communicates a sense of openness and welcome through its transparency and; 2) Employing a mix of macro and micro design moves to create a dynamic and welcoming facade, rewarding the observer from a distance as well as up close.
“We are trying to signal from the exterior and sidewalk that there are more people‐oriented activities within,” notes Shannon Gaffney, co-designer and SkB co-founder. “If it is sterile and too severe on the exterior, it pushes people away. We’ve used materials, detail and scale to extend a ‘welcome sign’—an invitation to explore, engage and ‘come on in.’”
With its new exterior, Willis Tower will offer an inviting and vibrant pedestrian experience while honoring the building’s role as a unique Chicago and American icon. It will create a sense of place, not just a place to work, allowing people to own their experience in the Tower.
SkB Architects design team Kyle Gaffney, co-designer and SkB co-founder Shannon Gaffney, co-designer and SkB co-founder Steve Olson, project manager and principal
Project consultant team Building Ownership: Blackstone (New York) Building Management: EQ Office (Chicago) Exterior Façade Design: SkB Architects (Seattle) Executive Architect: Gensler (Chicago) Interior Design: Gensler (Chicago) Signage & Wayfinding: Core12 & Gensler (Chicago) Structural: Thornton Tomasetti (Chicago) MEP/FP: ESD (Chicago) Civil: V3 (Chicago) Facade: Thornton Tomasetti (Chicago) Acoustic: KJWW (Chicago) Fire/Life Safety: WJE (Chicago) Parking: Walker Parking (Chicago) Lighting: Kugler Ning (New York) Landscape: OLIN (Philadelphia) | Forum (Chicago) Contractor: Turner/Clayco (Chicago)