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Coating Cracks atop Chicago Landmark

Monday, June 2, 2014

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Visitors to Chicago’s iconic Willis Tower last week got not only an unobstructed view of the city from 1,353 feet up, but also a serious scare, as the protective coating on the glass ledge began to crack beneath them.

Alejandro Garibay, 23, of California, and four family members were posing for photos Wednesday (May 28) on one of the four glass lookout ledges atop the skyscraper when they suddenly heard cracking noises and saw “lines going through the glass,” he told media outlets.

“We immediately jumped off as fast as we could,” Garibay said. He sent this photo of the damaged ledge to the Chicago Tribune.

Skydeck
The Ledge Factsheet

Officials say the protective coating cracked beneath visitors on The Ledge, but no one was in danger.

“The Ledge” experience on the 103rd floor of the original Sears Tower consists of fully enclosed glass boxes that jut out from the building about four feet and are retractable.

Opened in 2009, the glass boxes—comprised of three layers of half-inch-thick glass laminated into a seamless unit—are designed to hold five tons and have been coated in a protective layer to prevent scratching.

No Danger to Visitors

Despite the scare, Willis Tower officials say Garibay and his family weren’t in any danger.

"At no time whatsoever was the integrity of the structure compromised," Bill Utter, a Willis Tower spokesman, told news bureaus.

“Occasionally, the protective coating will crack, as it is designed to in order to protect the surface of the glass,” according to a post on the Willis Tower’s Facebook page.

The coating has cracked on The Ledge three times in the last five years, according to the Chicago Tribune. The protective coating is routinely replaced every six to nine months, the newspaper reported, citing MTH Industries, of Chicago, the contractors who installed the 1,500-pound glass panels in 2009.

Closed for Repairs

Inspectors from the city’s building department closed down the skyboxes Thursday so that a new layer of protective coating and glass could be installed on the damaged box.

The unaffected skyboxes reopened Thursday afternoon, according to the Tribune.

Ledge coating and glass replacement
Skydeck Facebook Image

Glass and architectural metal contractor MTH Industries replaced the cracked coating and installed a new layer of glass to the damaged Ledge.

Later Thursday evening, Willis Tower officials announced on Facebook that the new coating had been installed and the affected Ledge would reopen Friday (May 30) after city inspectors had a chance to examine the new installation.

Willis Tower posted photos of the glass and architectural metal contractors performing work on the damaged skybox, pulling off the cracked coating and putting in new glass.

MTH Industries did not immediately respond Friday to a request for more information about the dizzying project.

Skydeck and Ledge

The Skydeck attracts 1.3 million visitors annually who are able to view up to 50 miles and four states.

The Ledge dares visitors to “feel the city from 103 floors over Wacker Drive and the Chicago River” and is intended to be a sort of thrill ride.

Inspiration for The Ledge came from hundreds of forehead prints left behind on Skydeck windows and the Sears Tower scene from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” in which children were going right up to window, according to project details.

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill designed The Ledge. They also designed the original landmark building in 1974.

   

Tagged categories: Architecture; Commercial Buildings; Glass coatings; Health and safety

Comment from Luc N. Turenne, (6/2/2014, 10:28 AM)

Would be nice to know the coating type used. Problem identified on Wednesday, coating replaced on Thursday ?, opened and cured? for service on Friday.


Comment from Jill Speegle, (6/2/2014, 10:48 AM)

Thanks for your comment, Luc. We requested information regarding the coating used, but the owner and contractor did not respond.


Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (6/3/2014, 9:09 AM)

Some kind of peelable adhesive film would make sense. Quick turnaround.


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