Getting Around Willis Tower Getting Faster

Getting around Chicago can sometimes be agonizingly slow.  No one wants to be stuck in traffic on the 151 bus when they’re going to a job interview.  Perhaps more frustrating, when you get to the location for your next gig, is having to wait forever for an elevator.

Elevators at the Willis Tower (via Otis Elevator)

Elevators at the Willis Tower (via Otis Elevator)

That could happen less at Chicago’s tallest building, because the Willis Tower’s elevator system is getting a speed-enhancing overhaul. (You only get to call it “Sears Tower” if you also say “Weeghman Park” instead of Wrigley Field.)

The owners of the super skyscraper have hired Otis Elevator Company to improve the speed at which people rocket up and down the building’s innards.  The part of the project most of us will see is the trip to SkyDeck Chicago, which will now happen a sphincter-clenching 1,600 feet per minute.  Fortunately, since the SkyDeck is a mere 1,353 feet above South Wacker Drive, you won’t have time to fudge your Huggies.

An estimated 5.8 million people use the Willis Tower’s 83 elevators and 97 passenger cabs each year.  That’s like moving the entire nation of Singapore through the building. More people work in the Willis Tower than live in southwest suburban Lemont.

But why spend five years rebuilding elevators?  In addition to reducing the travel time during peak hours by a third, it will also save the building’s owner, Equity Office Properties, 35% on its elevator-related electric bill.  And when you consider the amount of energy a building the size of Willis uses in a year… well, just add three or four zeros to your ComEd statement and you’ll see why this is a good idea.

The project includes new motors, new machine rooms, a computer that will sort passengers by destination, and enough new cable to stretch from the Willis Tower to Kenosha.  No, seriously.  Sixty-four miles of new cable.

If all of this sounds fascinating to you, check out Otis’ video on the subject below, and the press release that follows.


Otis Finalizes Contract for Major Willis Tower Modernization Project

CHICAGO – Chicago’s Willis Tower, one of the tallest and most famous buildings in the world, has turned to Otis to modernize its 83 elevators and 97 passenger cabs, including their respective machine rooms, motors, cables and controls as part of a larger renovation project. Otis, the world’s leading manufacturer and maintainer of people-moving products, including elevators, escalators and moving walkways, is a unit of United Technologies Corp. (NYSE: UTX).

Otis and Equity Office have finalized a contract to fully upgrade the building’s elevator cabs to Otis SkyRise® units using the CompassPlus™ destination management system. Otis SkyRise elevators are one of the world’s most advanced high-rise elevator systems, featuring stylish design, ultra-quiet operation, smart technology features and energy-efficient components. The CompassPlus system organizes traffic flow and provides a personalized passenger experience — sorting passengers into each elevator based on their destinations to get people where they’re going significantly faster than conventional dispatching systems. As part of the agreement, Otis will also provide maintenance service for the elevators for 10 years.

“Otis is proud to provide our industry-leading technology to Willis Tower, one of the world’s most iconic buildings,” said Otis Americas President Tom Vining. “Our innovative SkyRise and CompassPlus products will transform the passenger experience for the millions of people who pass through the building every year.”

The Willis Tower elevator system makes more than 46,000 daily trips and serves an estimated 5.8 million people each year. The modernization project will provide more efficient elevator service for tenants and visitors, reducing travel time during peak hours by up to 30 percent and cutting energy costs by an estimated 35 percent. The elevators will also better utilize new amenity services located on the building’s transfer floors.

“The Willis Tower is pleased to collaborate with Otis on the modernization of our elevator system,” said David Moore, Senior Vice President, Portfolio Director, Equity Office. “More than 15,000 tenants and guests use our elevators each day and they deserve the absolute best in transportation within the building, from updated technology to sleek design, and Otis offers best-in-class installation, service and aesthetics.”

A dedicated Otis team will be on site starting in June to ensure the modernization is completed on time and with minimal impact to the building’s tenants and operations.

The Willis Tower elevator modernization project is part of a $500 million transformation by owner/manager Equity Office, a portfolio company owned by Blackstone’s real estate funds. Through the investment, Willis Tower will be reinforced as a civic destination and the city’s leading workplace, featuring unprecedented amenities and unique retail and entertainment experiences. This renovation is just one of many significant updates being made to vertical transportation within the Willis Tower. Escalators at key points throughout the building will be removed to streamline travel and upgraded security and turnstiles will improve traffic flow at the building’s entrances.

Location: 233 South Wacker Drive, The Loop

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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