THREATENED: Aon Building Facade Alterations Proposed

Proposed Changes to Top Floor Facade and Skydeck Exterior Elevator on Aon Center’s NW Corner. Rendering Credit: 601W

Proposed Skydeck and “Sky Summit” ride on Aon Center. Rendering Credit: 601W

Proposed welcome pavilion near the Aon Center’s southeast corner. Rendering Credit: 601W

Aon Building Typical Floorplan with 40 Existing Internal Elevators, Image Credit: 601W

Harry Bertoia Sculpture “Sonambient” as originally installed at Standard Oil Building Plaza. Photo Credit: Harry Bertoia Foundation

Harry Bertoia Sculpture “Sonambient” as originally installed at Standard Oil Building Plaza. Photo Credit: Harry Bertoia Foundation

The Aon Building owners are proposing alterations to the topmost floors of the historic building located at 200 East Randolph Street while also adding an observation deck, exterior elevator, and a gondola-like ride. Originally known as the Standard Oil Building of Indiana and later the Amoco Building, it was designed by architect Edward Durell Stone with Perkins and Will and holds an important place in the Chicago skyline. When it was completed in 1973, it was the tallest building in Chicago and the fourth-tallest in the world.

The proposed highly visible exterior elevator addition will protrude from the corner of the building and project above the roofline, thus changing the iconic look and feel of this building and impacting the overall shape of this remarkable structure. The plan also calls for the removal of exterior steel columns and granite cladding above the 82nd floor to open up the space for an observation deck, forever changing its iconic appearance. The addition of a two-story exterior elevator, and a gondola-like ride that would sit atop of the building, will introduce an “amusement-park ride” component to one of Chicago’s most significant buildings.

Architect Edward Durell Stone’s vast work is well respected by art and architectural historians alike around the world and in numerous publications and the Standard Oil Building/Aon Center is perhaps the best building of his career. The City of Chicago is considered to be one of the great “architectural capitals” of American 19 th- and 20 th -Century building design, and we need to make every effort to preserve great works of architecture. With every insensitive remodeling, the original design intent of these buildings are compromised and diminished, resulting in a negative impact to the overall building’s design integrity.

The proposal for an exterior passenger elevator mounted to one of the corners of the building will negatively and adversely impact the design of Chicago’s third-tallest building, (following Willis Tower and Trump Tower). It could be a significant enough exterior change to prevent the building from ever being considered for a Chicago Landmark Designation, or ever being considered for national recognition. To allow such design changes to the exterior of the building could become an embarrassment for Chicago. Additionally, the observation deck elevator could use one of the existing 40 interior elevators and observation deck could be built on the roof to create the use while minimizing impact to the historic building.

The proposal for an exterior passenger elevator mounted to one of the corners of the building will negatively and adversely impact the design of Chicago’s third tallest building, (following Willis Tower and Trump Tower). It could be a significant enough exterior change to prevent the building from ever being considered for a Chicago Landmark Designation, or ever being considered for national recognition. To allow such design changes to the exterior of the building could become an embarrassment for Chicago.

Furthermore, if this plan were to proceed, there is a significant risk that other iconic, super-tall Chicago landmark buildings would follow this precedent and seek to install similar “amusement park ride-style” exterior elevators to boost their observation deck business, such as the Handcock Building and Sears Tower/Willis Tower.

Preservation Chicago encourages one or more of the existing interior elevator banks be used for the purposes of a public observation deck. There are currently 40 interior elevators. Even if four elevators were dedicated to serving observation deck visitors, it would still leave 36 elevators for tenant use. In any event, the ultimate design should respect and not visually impact the character and architecture of this world-renowned building.

In 1974, The Standard Oil Company, working with architect Edward Durell Stone on its new building, which at the time was the tallest building in Chicago, commissioned sculptor Harry Bertoia to design a kinetic piece of abstract art, which was placed around a central reflecting pool in the building’s plaza. “Sonambient” was comprised of eleven sets of copper and brass rods ranging in height from four to 16feet. The rods flexed and moved with the wind creating musical sounds. “Sonambient” was influenced by nature and represented wheat fields swaying in the breeze.

The grand-scale of Bertoia’s “Sonambient” sound sculpture on the plaza of the Standard Oil/Aon Building with its soaring brass rods was lost when the plaza was redesigned in 1994 and most of the sculpture hauled off to storage. As part of any approved plan, we would like to encourage a restoration of the building’s significant plaza features. In particular, the Harry Bertoia Sculpture “Sonambient” should be restored and reinstalled in its entirety in this once elegant plaza. Five pieces of the sculpture were sold at auction in 2013 and some were acquired by the Harry Bertoia Foundation. This new round of plaza alterations jeopardizes the few elements of the sculpture that remain.

Preservation Chicago would like to see Bertoia’s “Sonambient” sound sculpture reassembled and reinstalled on the plaza. Alternatively, this sculpture should be reassembled and donated to The Art Institute of Chicago so that this important Chicago sculpture can once again be available to the public.

Developer 601W has agreed to consent to a Chicago Landmark Designation for Aon Building at the request of 42 nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly if the building meets Chicago Landmarks Criteria. Preservation Chicago believes that the building meets four of the seven criteria. Two criteria are required for Chicago Landmark Designation.

Additional Reading
Aon Center’s planned observation deck, Chicago’s third, could create competition for tourist dollars, Ally Marotti and Blair Kamin, Chicago Tribune, 5/15/18

Developers pitch Aon Center observatory, glass elevator, and rooftop thrill ride: Developers pitch Aon Center observatory, glass elevator, and rooftop thrill ride, Jay Koziarz, Curbed Chicago, 5/15/18

Aon Center owners float plan for sky-high exterior elevator to new observation deck, Blair Kamin, Ryan Ori and Bill Ruthhart, Chicago Tribune, 2/23/18

Proposed Aon Center Observatory Community Presentation, May 2018

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