Chicago is getting a terrifying new architectural thrill ride

Chicago is getting a terrifying new architectural thrill ride

Architects at Solomon Cordwell Buenz will attach a glass elevator to the side of the 45-year-old Aon Center skyscraper.


Within the next three years, tourists in Chicago will have the chance to go on one crazy ride: A glass platform will launch thrill seekers 82 stories into the air, at speeds of 16.6 feet per second. This isn’t an amusement park attraction, though. It’s a glass elevator that will be installed on the exterior of one of the city’s many notable towers, the Aon Center. When construction of the elevator is finished, it will be the tallest (and fastest!) of its kind in North America, only 70 feet shy of the current world record-holder, the Bailong elevator in Zhangjiajie National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in China.

[Image: Solomon Cordwell Buenz]

The Aon Center, which sits at the edge of Chicago’s tourist hub, Millennium Park, dates back to the mid-1970s, when Edward Durell Stone and Perkins and Will completed the 1,150-foot-tall office building. As Archinectreports, the elevator itself is being designed by Chicago-based architecture firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz. This glass-and-steel column will be anchored to the northwest corner of the skyscraper every fourth floor, with the existing building supporting the weight of the shaft and elevator machinery.

The new elevator will transport visitors up to the new Aon Center Observatory, a public observation area that will offer a 360-degree panorama of the entire city–with views of the park, Lake Michigan, and Chicago’s Loop that its promoters claim have been unavailable until now. The observation area will have a lounge, an event space, and, of course, a restaurant. The developers–the 601W Companies, which owns the Aon Center–also describe a second attraction for the daring called the Sky Summit. This will be an “experience ride that takes them over the edge of the Aon Center’s roof and right over Millennium park.” Details on that particular aspect of the development are thin, but the Chicago Tribune previously reported that the ride will hang over the edge of the building like a hybrid of roller coaster and ferris wheel. In a community presentation, the developers claim the plan could attract an estimated 2 million yearly visitors, generating over $900 million in direct economic impact for the city over the next 20 years.

The plan clearly seeks to transform the building into an architectural destination in a city full of them–the Willis Tower’s own glass sky deck, and  the John Hancock’s sky bar, are both nearby.

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