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1 World Trade Center to top Willis Tower as hemisphere’s tallest

 
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Willis Tower left One World Trade Center. | AP

Willis Tower, left, and the One World Trade Center. | AP

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Updated: December 14, 2013 6:15AM



Chicago’s Willis Tower — once the biggest skyscraper in the world — will fall to the rank of second-tallest in North America when New York’s One World Trade Center is complete next year.

When that day comes, the former Sears Tower also will rank 10th across the globe, the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat announced Tuesday.

Antony Wood, the council’s executive director, said it’s OK.

“Does that really change Chicago as a city?” Wood said. “I mean, is London any less of a city because it doesn’t have the world’s tallest? I don’t think so.”

Wood was trying to ease any fears about Chicago’s place in the world after announcing, while facing the city’s skyline in a 35th Street conference room packed with reporters, that One World Trade Center’s architectural height will remain the 1,776 feet its designers intended.

The height is symbolic — and the decision steeped in emotion — because New York’s new skyscraper was planned as a monument to victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Without its 408-foot needle, the building is 1,368 feet, the height of the original World Trade Center.

The designers of One World Trade Center had planned to enclose the mast’s communications gear in decorative cladding made of fiberglass and steel. But the developer removed that exterior shell from the design, saying it would be impossible to properly maintain or repair.

Wood said Tuesday “the key word is permanence.” And he said the spire at One World Trade Center is “a permanent feature” topped with a beacon that will shine every night that’s considered a “very important architectural element.”

Wood pointed out the Sears Tower didn’t even have its antennae when it was first built. The official architectural height of Chicago’s skyscraper, which changed its name to Willis Tower in 2009, is 1,451 feet.

Wood said One World Trade Center will only usurp the Willis Tower as the tallest building in the United States once it is completed, meaning his council’s announcement Tuesday was only a projection.

If that projection holds, One World Trade Center will rank third in height across the globe. The Burj Khalifa in Dubai remains the tallest building in the world, and the Petronas towers in Malaysia, which first knocked the Willis Tower off of its perch as world’s tallest skyscraper in 1996, will fall to No. 7.

The Willis Tower’s highest occupied floor at 1,354 feet still rises above One World Trade Center’s at 1,268 feet. Willis Tower’s owners said its visitors can still stand at the “highest point in any building in the country” in a statement that otherwise welcomed One World Trade “to the elite club of the world’s tallest buildings” and congratulated its developers.

“Willis Tower has never seen this as competition between two iconic buildings,” they said. “One World Trade Center is a stunning architectural feat and it is a symbol of the resilience of the American people.”

But Mayor Rahm Emanuel refused to take in stride the news his city will be No. 2.

“I would just say this to all of the experts they gathered in one room: If it looks like an antenna and acts like an antenna then guess what? It is an antenna,” Emanuel said. “At the Willis Tower, you will have a view that’s unprecedented in its beauty, in its landscape and its capacity to capture something — something you can’t do from an antenna.

“Not that I’m competitive. That would be wrong. But for all those who want to climb on top of an antenna and take a look, go ahead. I would suggest that they stay indoors and take a look.”

Later, when a reporter asked the mayor if he planned to make any major changes to his 2014 budget, Emanuel said this: “No. But to the highest building in the city, I will.”

He didn’t elaborate.

Visitors to the Willis Tower didn’t mind the news quite so much.

“It’s definitely not going to keep me from going up to the top of this,” said Lucas Krug of Wichita, Kan.

Wood said the cities around the world building skyscrapers that dwarf the Willis Tower are still trying to establish themselves — still trying to build their skyline.

Chicago’s done that, he said, long ago establishing itself as “one of the best cities in the world.”

And that, he said, means Chicago “doesn’t need to play that game any more.”

Contributing: Fran Spielman, Art Golab, AP

Email: jseidel@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SeidelContent



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