Circling the Vista
Two of the most popular attractions in Chicago are the observation decks high above street-level in the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower) and the John Hancock Building (currently searching for a new name). On weekends, long lines of tourists and Chicagoans wait patiently to kiss the sky.
In terms of height, the Willis Tower and the John Hancock Building are about to get a big sister, designed by Chicago architect Jeanne Gang, who heads Studio Gang Architects. Unfortunately for many of those wanting a view, the two observations decks will remain the only viable option, at least for the next year or so. Anyone wanting to look out from the Vista’s heights will either need to secure a construction job or buy a condominium in the structure.
In terms of statistics, the Willis Tower is the tallest building in Chicago (1,450 feet), followed by the Trump International Hotel and Tower (1,388 feet), then the Aon Center (1,136 feet), and then the Hancock (1,127 feet). It is possible that those rankings will require adjustment. Plans for at least two other towers have been announced in recent months—one on what is now the parking lot behind the Chicago Tribune’s former headquarters and another where the Chicago Spire was to have been built until the 2008 financial crisis effectively put the kibosh on that project—the hole remains.
Construction on the Vista Tower began in August 2016. Visible progress was slow at first, as the foundation was constructed below Upper Wacker Drive. Then, last summer concrete support beams finally were visible from across the river. In just over a year, the construction by my count has reached some 80 stories. Upon completion the west tower will be 101 stories (which includes floors below Upper Wacker Drive), reaching a height of 1,191 feet, which will make it the third tallest building in Chicago. Given my limited knowledge, I suspect that the building will top out sometime in early 2019. I have read that construction crews can add one floor to a skyscraper that is under construction every three or four days. The Vista is scheduled to open in late 2020.
According to a July 2018 article in the Chicago Tribune, the top of the tower will hold water-filled tanks—tuned liquid sloshing dampers—to mitigate the sway that would otherwise result on windy days. There will also be a blow-through floor toward the top of the tower, which will also mitigate the effect of strong winds. Somewhat surprisingly, this was an afterthought rather than part of the original design.
The tower has a somewhat disorienting undulating shape. I suspect the visual confusion will be lessened once the building’s skin (a glass curtain) is attached. At this time, I see no signs that the installation process has begun. The undulating shape is achieved with 19 frustums, which are pyramids without the point. The frustums are stacked on top of one another top to bottom.
Even though the building is still an incomplete shell, tour guides on the dozens of river cruise boats that pass it each day are noting its features and significance as they give their spiel, which can be heard from the river banks.
When it is completed, the Vista will contain 396 condominiums. One of the lower-priced units sold for just under $850,000, with another unit selling for $9.75 million. According to the Tribune, the two-story penthouse was under contract for $18.5 million. Oddly, the unit occupies the 71st and 72nd floors. Still a very elevated position, but not a penthouse as I understand the term.
One thing is for sure, the building is difficult to photograph. I spent a good three hours yesterday circling it, setting up my tripod as I worked at the end of several spokes. Even though it is incomplete, the building requires two or three stitched photographs to capture its entirety unless there is significant distance between the photographer and the site.
Of all the photographs I took yesterday, the cover photograph is the one that does the Vista the most justice. I was able to capture that image with just one photograph using a 120mm lens (a 90mm lens using a 35mm-equivalent measure) by standing east of Lake Shore Drive, with the Chicago Yacht Club just south of my location. It took about half an hour to capture a useable image. While I was undertaking my efforts, road crews were working on the six-week long resurfacing project that will hopefully “permanently” remove the potholes from the roadbed that have been reappearing each Spring for the last seven or eight years. As the workers were grinding the concrete under the bed, massive plumes of dust rose three or so stories above the ground, which posed problems for me. Apparently they took a lunch break, so the dust settled and I worked quickly.
The Vista Tower From the Columbus Avenue Bridge