Going Full Tilt

TILT_picThe architecturally savvy city of Chicago recently saw its latest high-rise innovation open to the public. 360 Chicago, formerly known as the John Hancock Observatory, debuted the highly publicized attraction Tilt! earlier this month.

Tilt! is a 26-foot-wide glass- and steel-enclosed platform sitting on the south side of the 94th floor of the John Hancock Center. It tilts out 30 degrees to provide patrons, who stand on the platform while grasping handrails on each side, with a downward view of Chicago.

The viewing window is composed of heavy triple-laminated glass, and the entire platform is supported at three locations to the fixed structure, using three overhead hydraulic actuators to extend and rotate the enclosure.

Gensler is noted as the architect of record on the project. Also working from early in the design stages with the engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti, was Cupples, a high-rise façade specialist. Cupples teamed up with its sister company Enclos to make the one-of-a-kind system possible.

“It’s a unique feature on a building that uses a lot of the expertise we were able to draw in between Cupples and Enclos,” says Rick Hamlin, sales manager at Cupples. “What we brought is a specialty in that kind of glazing, where you have a steel structure supporting glass, and we were able to combine that with the hydraulics portion.

“. . . It’s something we are very proud of. We think it’s really an exciting thing and take a lot of satisfaction in how it’s been able to kick off. It’s an outstanding piece of architecture.”

Cupples has been working on the project since last November, as Hamlin says the company had about six men working “consistently” on it with a couple full field crews coming in and out for standard procedure operations, such as assembling the glass and putting it into place.

Tilters_picTechnoglass, Chicago Tempered Glass and Agnora provided glass throughout Cupples’ work.

In addition to the speed of the project, Hamlin says it wasn’t without its fair share of other challenges, as the unique tilting aspect of the system resulted in work that involved “a lot of almost bridge-type building rather than building-type construction.”

Another challenge was the amount of steel and work that had to fit into such a small space.

“When you think about how much steel and how many parts had to be put together up on the 94th floor, it’s rather incredible,” says Hamlin.

Cupples’ work on the project wrapped up last week, and not long after, Tilt! was featured on NBC’s “Today Show,” as well as in various major print publications. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel expects the buzz to continue to grow and turn Tilt! into a major tourist attraction.

“Since taking office, I have been focused on tourism as a key driver of our economy, and our tourism is at a record high while we continue to grow,” Emanuel said in a press release. “Attractions like Tilt! will attract thrill seekers from around the world to our city.”

Nick St. Denis is a contributing editor for Architects’ Guide to Glass & Metal magazine. He is also the assistant editor of its sister publication, USGlass magazine and USGNN.