Tech Spot #106: Willis Tower lift upgrade, Chicago, Canada

Friday 18 May 2018
Credit: Otis

Architects: Otis Ltd

The only way is up...

Otis has finalised a contract for a major renovation project at the Willis Tower in Chicago

Chicago’s Willis Tower, designed by architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, is one of the tallest and most famous buildings in the world. The building’s owners have turned to Otis to modernise its 83 elevators and 97 passenger cabs, including their respective machine rooms, motors, cables and controls as part of a larger renovation project. Otis, a 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 finalised 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.  

Watch a video that provides more information on the elevator modernization at Willis Tower.

To learn more about the Willis Tower, including information for visitors, leasing and history, visit

Willis Tower: Facts and figures 

  • The top of Willis Tower is the highest point in Illinois. The tip of its highest antenna is 1,729 feet (527 m) above street level or 2,325 feet (708.7 m) above sea level, its roof is 1,450 feet 7 inches (442.14 m) above street level or 2,046 feet (623.6 m) above sea level, the 103rd floor observation deck (The Sky deck) is 1,353 feet (412 m) above street level or 1,948 feet (593.8 m) above sea level, the Franklin Street entrance is 595 feet (181.4 m) above sea level. (The highest natural point in Illinois is the Charles Mound, at 1,235 feet (376.4 m) above sea level.)
  • The building leans about 4 inches (10.2 cm) towards the west due to its slightly asymmetrical design, placing unequal loads on its foundation.
  • The design for Willis Tower incorporates nine steel-unit square tubes in a 3 tube by 3 tube arrangement, with each tube having the footprint of 75 ft × 75 ft (22.9 m × 22.9 m). Willis Tower was the first building for which this design was used. The design allows future growth of extra height to the tower if wanted or needed.
  • The restrooms on the 103rd floor, at 1,353 feet (412.4 m) high, are the highest (relative to street level) in the Western Hemisphere.
  • The design was inspired by an advertisement for a package of cigarettes.
  • The Franklin Street entrance is the point from which all building heights are measured. The Wacker Drive entrance is six feet higher than the Franklin Street entrance, lower Wacker Drive/Lower Level 1 is approximately 17 feet, 6 inches lower than the Wacker Drive entrance and 11 feet, six inches lower than Franklin Street. The 103rd floor observation deck is 1,354 feet above the Franklin Street entrance. The glass ledges in the Skydeck are on a raised platform 18 inches higher than the rest of the 103rd floor or 1,349 feet, six inches above the Wacker Drive entrance, 1,355 feet, six inches above the Franklin Street entrance and 1,367 feet above lower Wacker Drive/Lower Level 1. The Skydeck elevators rise from Lower Level 2 which gives a total rise of approximately 1,382 feet to the 103rd floor.
  • The building's total building area stands at 351,846 m2 (3,787,200 sq ft)
  • It remains the world's tallest steel-construction building. All taller buildings use concrete or composite construction
  • Designed by architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
  • In July 2009, U.S. Equities Realty led the design and construction of a multi-million dollar renovation of Skydeck Chicago, including the development of The Ledge, a series of glass bays on the 103rd floor that extend from the building providing visitors with unobstructed views of Chicago through the windows and glass floors – 1,353 feet straight down. In addition to The Ledge, the new Skydeck visitor center features museum-quality interactive exhibits.


Nick Myall

News editor

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