RACE TO THE TOP: Observation Decks for Today’s Tourist

Blake Sanborn
Principal Director of Landscape Architecture
AECOM, San Francisco

Observatories have long been part of the building programs atop the world’s great skyscrapers. It used to be that a fetching view was enough, but the introduction of new specialty add-on experiences has significantly raised the public’s expectations. TILT atop 875 N Michigan (formerly John Hancock Center), the Ledge at Willis Tower, and a new glass elevator ride planned for AON Center are three recent entries from Chicago alone.

Attendees will hear commentary from key voices responding to the emerging business opportunities high atop today’s tallest buildings. Driving the growth are new trends in tourist preferences, new special event facilities at observatories, and several divergent business strategies. Interestingly, one strategy at Willis aims to invite the tourists into the main retail hall at the buildings’ ground plane, while the very opposite plan is being made for the public’s new ascent to the top of AON Center.

What are the big drivers of investment and innovation in modern observatories? What responsibilities or boundaries are there for respecting tenants in neighboring buildings and the larger urban fabric, or is the sky the limit in creating theme park attractions in the downtown core? This session describes current thinking on these matters and speculates on what might be coming next.