Monday, February 23, 2015

John Hancock Center
 by: chicago designslinger

 [John Hancock Center (1969) Bruce Graham , architect; Fazlur Khan, structural engineer, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

You couldn't miss it. When the John Hancock Center was topped-off in 1968, it soared so high above everything else in Chicago that not only did it become an instant landmark, but came to identify Chicago in a way that the Eiffel Tower identified Paris. Not long after the building was completed, nearby Sears Tower became the tallest building in the world, but the tapering walls of "Big John" remained a Chicago favorite.

  [John Hancock Center, 875 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Originally the plan was to build two structures on the city block that stretched from Michigan Avenue east to Seneca Street between Delaware and Chestnut, an office building and an apartment building. There were concerns though that the north Michigan Avenue location was too far removed from the central business district and therefore might not attract the commercial business community. But the bigger problem was the one-story building located in the northeast corner of the property which housed one of the city's more exclusive private fiefdoms, the wealthy and powerful Casino Club.

  [John Hancock Center, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Developer Jerry Wolman offered the club a variety of financial incentives to relocate, including space in the new tower, but they didn't need the money and were very happy in their little home, thank you very much. So the plan shifted to a very tall single tower which would include a retail component on the lower levels, a parking garage, office space, and to top it all off, rental apartments with views no other building could possibly offer. For architect Bruce Graham the problem was how to get the most bang for your buck trying to accommodate apartment sizes that ranged from single room studios to four bedroom duplexes. The studios were the challenge. A single room containing a tenant's living, sleeping and eating space was harder to work into the floor plan of a 100-story building than the four bedroom duplex because of the depth required for a functional studio. But if the tower walls gradually drew inward as the building climbed higher, the 48 floors of apartments would be much more efficient, spatially and monetarily. The problem was holding the thing up. That's when structural engineer Fazlur Khan, who worked with Graham at the architectural firm Skidmore Owings & Merrill, stepped-in to help the architect with his problem. Build a tube with all the structural support on the exterior of the building, and help with the extremely heavy load by shifting some of the weight to diagonal braces. Not only would the building be tall and slanted, but those diagonal structural supports would become one of the towers identifying trademarks.
The Hancock transformed the area. Today the building is surrounded by other tall structures, and there are more people living within the blocks bordering the sleek, dark skyscraper than in any other census tracts in the city. Shoppers and tourists flock to the neighborhood providing city coffers with much needed revenue. And the 43-year-old structure still has the loftiest public dining and drinking space in Chicago, providing patrons with views from the 95th floor.

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