Still, the Willis has a central place in Chicago’s history, speaking to the city’s own tradition of recovering from adversity ever since the 1871 Great Fire and its history of creating architectural marvels, said Peter Alter, an archivist at the Chicago History Museum.
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, headquartered in Chicago, also designed the Willis. Then known as the Sears Tower, it was completed in 1973 and remained the tallest building in the world until 1996 when the council ruled that the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, had knocked it from the top spot.
And the Willis can still claim to get visitors up higher: The highest occupied floor in the 1,450-foot (not including antenna height), 110-story Willis Tower is still higher up than that of the 104-story 1 World Trade Center. In a sign of just how in dispute building measurements can be, the council says the Willis has 108 floors.
At the Willis’ 103rd floor thrill-seekers can step out into one of the glass boxes known as The Ledge that extend outside the building’s steel frame and look straight down 1,353 feet.
In New York, the debate was upsetting to Jim Riches, a retired fire department deputy chief who lost his 29-year-old firefighter son, Jimmy, in the terrorist attack.
“You know what? I think it’s a ridiculous argument. It doesn’t matter to me what height it is,” he said. “You know, my son’s not going to walk back in that door again. And that’s the big thing. He’s gone.”