Essential Architecture-  Chicago Loop South

John Hancock Center


Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)


875 N. Michigan Avenue Chicago, USA




Modern structural expressionist


Floor count 100
Floor area 853,432 ft² (260,126 m²)
Elevator count 50
Antenna/Spire 1,500 ft (457 m)
Roof 1,127 ft (344 m)
Top floor 1,078 ft (329 m)


Office Building
  general view, photo J. Howe. and rising into mist, photo, J. Cohen.
  lower view, photo J. Howe.
  distant view, photo, J. Cohen.
  overall view from below, photo 1976, D. Stillman.
The John Hancock Center at 875 N. Michigan Ave. in Chicago, Illinois, is a 100-story, 1,127-foot (344 m) tall skyscraper designed by structural engineer Fazlur Khan of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. When completed in 1969, it was the tallest building in the world outside New York City. It is the third-tallest skyscraper in Chicago and the fifth-tallest in the United States, after the Sears Tower, the Empire State Building, the Bank of America Tower (New York), and the Aon Center. When measured to the top of its antenna masts, it stands at 1,500 feet (457 m). The building is home to offices and restaurants, as well as about 700 condominiums and contains the highest residences in the world. This skyscraper was named for its builder the John Hancock Insurance company.

The 95th floor has long been home to a restaurant, the latest tenant being "The Signature Room on the 95th Floor." While patrons dine, they can look out at Chicago and Lake Michigan. The Hancock Center's observation facilities compete with the Sears Tower's Skydeck across town. The Hancock Center is in a commercial district, while the Sears Tower is in the financial district. The Hancock Center 94th floor observation deck displays exhibits about the city of Chicago. Maps explain the view in each direction and a special meshed-in area allows the visitors to feel the winds 1,030 feet (314 m) above ground level. The 44th-floor sky lobby features America's highest indoor swimming pool.


One of the most famous buildings of the structural expressionist style, the skyscraper's distinctive X-bracing exterior is actually a hint that the structure's skin is indeed part of its 'tubular system'. This idea is one of the architectural techniques the building used to climb to record heights (the tubular system is essentially the spine that helps the building stand upright during wind and earthquake loads). This X-bracing allows for both higher performance from tall structures and the ability to open up the inside floorplan (and usable floor space) if the architect desires. Original features such as the skin have made the John Hancock Center an architectural icon. It was pioneered by Bangladeshi-American structural civil engineer Fazlur Khan.

The interior was remodeled in 1995, adding to the lobby travertine and textured limestone surfaces. The elliptical-shaped plaza outside the building serves as a public oasis with seasonal plantings and a 12-foot (3.7 m) waterfall. A band of white lights at the top of the building is visible all over Chicago at night and changes colors for different holidays.

The building is a member of the World Federation of Great Towers. It also has won various awards for its distinctive style, including the Distinguished Architects 25 Year Award from the American Institute of Architects in May 1999.

Other facts

Including its antennas, the John Hancock Center has a height of 1,500 feet (457 m), making it the third-tallest building in the world when measured to pinnacle height (after the Sears Tower and Taipei 101)

The John Hancock Center was erected on the site of Cap Streeter's 19th century steamboat shanty. The area is called Streeterville after him, and consists of landfill reclaimed from the lake.

The building's first resident was Benjamin Gingiss, one of the founders and owners of Gingiss Formal Wear. He lived in the tower until his death.

On December 18, 1997, one of the building's more famous residents, comedian Chris Farley, died in his apartment of a drug overdose.

Jerry Springer lives on the 91st floor of the John Hancock Center. This is the second highest residential level of the building.

On March 9, 2002, part of a swing-stage (hanging scaffold for window washing & exterior repairs) fell 43 stories after being torn loose by wind gusts around 60 mph (100 km/h), crushing several cars and killing 3 people in 2 of them. The remaining part of the stage swung back-and-forth in the gusts repeatedly slamming against the building, damaging cladding panels, breaking windows, and sending pieces onto the street below.

On December 10, 2006, the non-residential portion of the building was sold by San Francisco based Shorenstein Properties LLC for $385 million and was purchased by Goldman Sachs. Shorenstein had bought the building in 1998 for $220 million.

An annual stair climb race up the 94 floors from the Michigan Avenue level to the observation deck called Hustle up the Hancock is held on the last Sunday of February. The climb benefits the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. The record time as of 2006 is 9 minutes 39 seconds.

The building was also the setting of the film Poltergeist III.

The building makes a very brief cameo in the PC game Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2. When the Soviet Union destroys Chicago with a nuclear warhead in "Mission 4: Last Chance" of the Allied Campaign, the tower can be seen collapsing in a very brief cinematic.

The exterior truss construction means that four windows on each side of the building are blocked on each level. This is seen as a status symbol and offices featuring the blocked windows are leased at higher prices.[citation needed]

Society of Architectural Historians

Special thanks to the Society of Architectural Historians
for some of the images on this page (copyright SAH).