John Hancock Center
875 N. Michigan Ave.

John Hancock Center

2000 NB

Its sloping sides are at once simple and profound, a paradox of strength and sleekness that make this one of the world's top ten skyscraper successes. The Hancock is overshadowed by the Sears Tower in height and statistics but not in the hearts of Chicagoans. As Blair Kamin writes (see below), arguably no buliding embodies Chicago's character the way the 100-story Hancock does. Not only do its X-braces and truncated sloped form make it look like a stocky person with big shoulders, but the building stands resolutely and brazenly against Lake Michigan's windy fury, just as Chicagoans do. The Hancock has a more inviting urban space at its feet; while the Sears Tower lies in the city's financial district and expresses the corporate coldness of capitalism, the dynamic Hancock combines more of the city's essential ingredients, peering over a park, a church, a beach, the lake, and of course, the tourist district--though while it allows the Magnificent Mile to approach it, the Hancock keeps its distance from the area's tackiness. And while the Sears is all offices, the mixed-use Hancock is a small city you can inhabit for days at a time, containing offices, parking, housing, shopping and even a 44th floor swimming pool. The Hancock also has a more breathtaking view from its observatory, which hoists you over Lake Michigan. Thankfully, the sunken plaza at the Hancock's base on Michigan Avenue won out over an ill-conceived plan to build a bubble-like atrium at the building's feet (prompting a crowd of protesters, one bearing a sign that said "Don't put a skirt on Big John!"). The result is an essential icon in a city full of them. -NB

Blair Kamin:
It is Chicago's Eiffel Tower and Washington Monument, its Chrysler Building and Big Ben. ... Dark, strong, powerful, maybe even a little threatening--like a muscle-bound, Prohibition-era gangster clad in a tuxedo--the John Hancock Center says "Chicago" as inimitably as the sunburstlike summit of the Chrysler Building evokes the jazzy theatricality of New York. ... Today, even with construction cranes for new condominiums jostling for a piece of the sky around it, Big John stands taller than ever, fusing form and function, economy and beauty, blue-collar and black-tie.
-from Why Architecture Matters: Lessons From Chicago

-Official site of the John Hancock Center
-Official site of the Hancock Observatory
-More about the Hancock from PBS' Building Big series
-More about the Hancock from AViewOnCities.com


Copyright 2001-2003
Nathan L.K. Bierma