Known locally as ‘Big John’, the John Hancock Center is one of the Chicagoans’ favorite skyscrapers. The one-hundred-story building, completed in 1969, has a remarkable design, with huge X-braces serving both a structural and a visual purpose.
The construction was designed by the engineer Fazlur Kahn and architect Bruce Graham from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Fazlur Kahn devised the frame-tube system, which he also implemented in the Willis Tower.
This new construction method was made possible by new technologies, like more advanced software and new developments in steel. Thanks to the new construction method, it was possible for Kahn to design constructions which could resist the strong wind forces more effectively by having the forces absorbed by all three dimensions of the building. The diagonals are connected to the exterior columns, making it possible for the forces to be carried over from the braces to the columns and back.
Visually, the braces create an impression of stability, and they move the eye away from the human-sized windows. The innovative construction also resulted in about fifty percent less steel required when compared to skyscrapers built with interior columns.
Just like Marina City, the John Hancock Center is a multifunction building. It includes 48 stories of apartments , 29 stories with offices, shops, a hotel, a swimming pool, an ice rink, restaurant and on top of the 344 meters (1127 ft) tall building there are radio and television facilities. It even offers services like its own post office and a refuse collection. The apartments are located at the top of the tower. Some of them are so high that the inhabitants sometimes have to call the doorkeeper to ask what the weather’s like down on the ground, as the apartments are sometimes above the clouds.
At the beginning of the project, it was controversial mostly because of the location of this massive tower, near the much smaller and more gentle buildings on Michigan Avenue. After its completion, most of the criticism dwindled, but much like with the Willis Tower, the plaza at the entrance was considered very user-unfriendly, being afflicted by heavy gales and loud traffic noise from Michigan Avenue. It was redesigned in 1995 and now includes a 3.5 meters high fountain to muffle the noise and a recirculation of office and shopping traffic.
The observation deck at the top of the John Hancock Center – known as 360 Chicago – offers one of the best views you can have of the Loop, Chicago’s downtown area.
Aside from the views, the observation deck’s main attraction is Tilt, a frankly frightening experience where up to eight people can stand in front of a row of windows which tilt toward the ground at an angle of thirty degrees. This way, visitors get to experience views of the Magnificent Mile face-down from a height of about 1000 feet (300+ meters).