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Sears Tower To Be Renamed Willis Tower

Chicago's most famous skyscraper, the Sears Tower is set to have a name change and make-over to help rejuvenate what the owners, American Landmark Properties, consider to be tired architecture.

Naming rights on the tower expired way back in 2003 but has continued to be called the Sears tower, but as of June 2009 the tower will become officially known as the Willis Tower, after its new anchor tenant, London-based insurance broker, Willis Group Holdings.

The Willis Group seem to have a love for iconic buildings and this deal for 140,000 square feet at $14.50 per square foot, with free naming rights thrown in, will add to their growing collection as a sort of buy one, get one free deal.

Their own tower in London which was designed by Norman Foster which was completed in 2008 is currently the fourth tallest on the skyline, and a previous landmark office building designed by Foster in Ipswich was one of the most important of the 1970s and significant enough to shoot him to fame and fortune.

The tower's history goes back to 1969 when the worlds biggest retailers Sears, Roebuck and Co decided to gather their 30,0000 strong workforce under one roof, Chicago was the chosen location and it was down to renowned architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill to design said roof. Luckily for Sears and Co they also chose to design a cutting edge skyscraper to hold it up.

From the start it was decided not only would the tower house the Sears mob of workers but also have space to rent out to other firms, so the architects came up with large floor plates on the lower floors and taper the floors with a series of set backs as the tower rises, giving the tower its still distinctive look.

As Sears optimism of growth grew so did the height of the building during the design phase, and it was only because of flight restrictions that the tower finally stopped at 108 storeys or 527 metres tall, making it taller than New York's still to be completed World Trade Centre and also the tallest Skyscraper in the world, a record it held on to until 1998 when the Petronas Towers stole its title.

The tower was completed in 1973 and was completely financed by Sears and cost a whopping $150 million, a huge amount at the time and over $750 million today.

Unfortunately for Sears, their optimism never paid off and the tower wasn't the huge attraction they hoped it would be. For nearly a decade it stood half empty as Sears lost its control on the market with new companies like Wal-Mart springing up and taking their shares, and eventually Sears had to take a mortgage out on the tower which they gradually moved out of before finally selling off in 1994.

This year its new owners are redesigning the towers sky deck that Ferris Bueller famously stood on, adding a window like box tourists can look down through the glass to the streets below. SOM have been called upon again to design and oversee the plans, they are also considering giving the tower a new look with plans to paint the tower silver to highlight its new energy efficiency and to try rebranding the tower along with its new name.

People are notorious for digging their in their heels in the face of change and it will remain to see whether the new look and new name sticks or whether the tower will simply continue to stay in hearts and minds as the famous Sears Tower, just as many still call the BT Tower in London Post Office Tower despite a name change almost 30 years ago.
The Willis Tower, formerly Sears Tower, in Chicago
The Willis Tower, formerly Sears Tower, in Chicago