The Ledge at Chicago’s Willis Tower
We all love the satellite view on Google maps. It’s spectacular to look down on earth from above and see the geometry of city streets and to play the fun game of identifying buildings from their roof lines. In 2009 Chicago’s Willis Tower opened “The Ledge” which gives a new meaning to “satellite view” and the concept of looking down onto earth. From its 103rd floor observation deck, glass balconies have been installed that extend out from the building so visitors can look down on Chicago just as one does on Google maps. From 1,353 feet up, it’s like floating over Chicago with nothing under you but the streets.
Willis Tower is the tallest building in the western hemisphere. If you’re not familiar with the structure, you may recognize its former name; the Sears Tower. In early 2009 the insurance broker Willis Group Holdings, Ltd. obtained the building’s naming rights. Later that year the building was officially renamed the Willis Tower, and the Ledge was introduced.
While it’s sad to learn the iconic name is gone, after my visit earlier this winter I was pleased to see the changes that came along with the new name. The Chicago Sky Deck is all new, literally, from the ground up. The new Sky Deck includes remodeled lower level exhibits and the Ledge, all of which are accessible.
The lower level exhibits explore the history of the Willis Tower, the city of Chicago, and skyscraper architecture. The exhibits feature accessible interactive touch screen activities including a 9-minute movie “reaching for the stars”. The movie theater does provide accessible seating and hearing assistance receivers are available (request them from the cashier when you purchase your Sky Deck tickets).
Of course the 103rd floor observation deck is what most of the 1.3 million yearly visitors come to see. The scenery from the deck stretches around all four sides of the tower and on clear days can provide uncompromising views of Chicago, Lake Michigan, and four states. A number of telescopes, including telescopes designed especially for individuals in wheelchairs, allow for a more detailed examination of the surrounding sights.
The Ledge attraction is located on the western façade of the observation deck. The glass balconies are fully enclosed and seamlessly extend off the observation floor making wheelchair access effortless. The Ledge is a completely accessible exhibit. But this attraction is not for the faint of heart, especially if your fear is heights. While fearless children run, jump, and sprawl themselves onto the glass floor as if unaware of the distance below them, adults are much more cautious. Many adults creep onto the balconies and sometimes even crawl. Other times they approach the buildings edge only to peek over the balcony floor. But for those brave enough to fully immerse themselves onto the glass balcony, you should be prepared for an exhilarating view of Chicago.
The Sky Deck at Chicago’s Willis tower is something the whole family can enjoy. While the new name might take some time to get used to, I am certain the Ledge will quickly become just as iconic as the tower. So if you are visiting Chicago, or happen to live in the area, I would highly recommend a visit. The “satellite view” from the observation deck is much more realistic than the satellite view on your computer screen.
For more information about the Willis Tower, the Chicago Sky Deck, and The Ledge visit http://www.theskydeck.com.