Exploring the Willis Tower: A Must-Visit for International Students in Chicago

Exploring the Willis Tower: A Must-Visit for International Students in Chicago

Discover the Willis Tower in Chicago, a must-visit attraction for international students. For 25 years this Chicago icon was unchallenged as the tallest building in the world! Get insider tips, ticket information, and the thrill of 'The Ledge' with stunning city views. Plan your visit today!
A daylight photo of Willis Tower in Chicago

Photo by Mike Balbus on Unsplash

Chicago, the vibrant city on the shores of Lake Michigan, is a dream destination for international students. Amidst its iconic skyline, a structure that stands tall and proud is the Willis Tower. Completed in 1973, for 25 years, it was the world’s tallest building. In this blog post, we’ll take you on a virtual tour of this architectural marvel, sharing everything you need to know as an international student visiting Chicago.

1. Architecturally Significant Design

The Willis Tower emerged during a period when modernist architecture was flourishing. Architect Bruce Graham and structural engineer Fazlur Rahman Khan, both visionaries in their fields, were seeking to redefine skyscraper design. Their collaboration was instrumental in shaping the tower’s architectural concept. It exemplifies the modernist belief in form following function, emphasizing functionality and structural integrity while discarding unnecessary ornamentation.

One of the most notable aspects of the tower’s pioneering structural design. The innovative use of bundled tubes, a structural system where nine steel tubes are bundled together to form the core of the building, allowed for both strength and flexibility. This approach not only reduced wind sway but also maximized interior space, setting a new standard for tall building design. The influence of engineer Fazlur Rahman Khan’s “tubular design” principles is a hallmark of the tower’s architectural origins.

2. Origins as Sears Tower, Renaming as Willis Tower

As most tours point out, the building was known for decades as the Sears Tower. The genesis of what would become the Sears Tower can be traced back to the mid-1960s when the retail giant Sears, Roebuck & Co. was in search of a new headquarters. The company’s ambition was to consolidate its offices into a single, massive structure in the heart of Chicago.

At the time of its inauguration, the building was officially named the “Sears Tower” in honor of its primary occupant, Sears, Roebuck & Co. The Sears Tower quickly garnered worldwide attention for its unprecedented height and innovative structural design, becoming an enduring symbol of corporate prowess and architectural achievement.

In 2009, the building’s name was officially changed to the “Willis Tower.” Willis Group Holdings had been looking to consolidate its Chicago-area offices into a single location, and this move presented an opportunity to secure naming rights for the skyscraper.

While the renaming decision was a strategic move by Willis Group Holdings and the building’s ownership, it generated a range of reactions, both locally and globally. The Sears Tower had long been an iconic symbol of Chicago and the United States, and its renaming was met with nostalgia and sentimental attachments by many. Nevertheless, the change to the Willis Tower marked a new chapter in the skyscraper’s history and its association with a global corporation.

3. Tallest Building in the World 1973-1998

The Willis Tower also held the title of the world’s tallest building from its completion in 1973 until 1998. (At that time the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, surpassed the Willis Tower as the world’s tallest building.)

Fun facts:

  • The Willis Tower stands at a pinnacle height of 1,450 feet (442 meters) with its antennas included.
  • The highest occupied floor in the Willis Tower is at a height of approximately 1,354 feet (412 meters).

4. For Visitors: The Skydeck Experience

The Skydeck is the Willis Tower’s observation deck, and it’s an absolute must-visit. Here, you can step out onto “The Ledge,” a glass balcony that extends four feet out from the 103rd floor, providing breathtaking views of the city below. It’s a thrilling experience that’s sure to be a highlight of your trip.

Make sure to plan your visit in advance. Tickets for the Skydeck can be purchased online, and it’s recommended to book your time slot early, especially during peak tourist seasons. The Skydeck is usually open from early morning to late evening, but it’s a good idea to check the official website for the most up-to-date information.

– Arrive early in the day to avoid long lines.
– Don’t forget your camera; the views are Instagram-worthy!
– Learn about the Tower’s history through the informative exhibits on the 103rd floor.
– Combine your visit with a trip to the nearby Art Institute of Chicago or Millennium Park for a full day of exploration.

5. Location and Accessibility

The Willis Tower is conveniently located in Chicago’s Loop district, making it easily accessible by public transportation. International students can take advantage of the city’s comprehensive public transit system, including buses and trains.

Bonus Fun Fact: MCC’s 100 S. Wacker campus, frequented by international students, is only 1-1/2 blocks from this historic and iconic building. That’s less than a 5 minute walk!


A visit to the Willis Tower is a quintessential Chicago experience for international students. The stunning views, rich history, and architectural significance make it an unforgettable part of your time in the Windy City. So, don’t miss the chance to explore this iconic skyscraper during your stay in Chicago.

Whether you’re admiring the skyline or braving “The Ledge,” the Willis Tower offers a unique perspective on the city that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime. Make sure to include it on your list of must-see attractions while studying abroad in Chicago.

To learn more about the Willis Tower click here.

To learn about the Skydeck, click here.



Hashtags: #WillisTower #ChicagoLandmarks #InternationalStudents, #SkydeckExperience #ChicagoTravel #StudentLife #ExploreChicago #CityViews #SearsTower #ChicagoAdventure

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