@Skydeck Chicago: Reinventing the Visitor Experience

Think you know observation decks? You’re in for a pleasant surprise at the new Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower. EQ Office has unveiled a completely revamped visitor experience for the world famous venue—a bottom-to-top transformation that engages visitors from the moment they arrive at ground level. Chicago Scenic led all fabrication and installation for the new Skydeck experience.

In a surprising twist, the new Skydeck Chicago actually begins underground, with a new interactive museum that takes visitors through an immersive Chicago-themed experience around major Chicago attractions, city history, and iconic cultural touchstones. From there, visitors are whisked to the 103rd floor observation deck and treated to spectacular views spanning up to 50 miles—including four states. That level also features The Ledge, the famous glass floor balconies that extend out from the building.

EQ Office recruited a team of professionals with previous experience reinventing similar high-profile interactive experiences. Chicago Scenic was the primary scenic fabrication partner on the revitalization project—in collaboration with the design powerhouse, Thinc Design, general contractor Clark Construction and a large selection of expert subcontractors. “It was very important from the start that we have the best team on this project—given that we were—in a sense – reinventing one of Chicago’s most iconic attractions, said Randy Stancik, General Manager at Skydeck Chicago. “Chicago Scenic played a vital role and was a valued partner in this lengthy project—they always bring their A game and for us it made a huge difference,” he added.

Much of the Skydeck Chicago project focused on the renovation of the 30,000-sq. ft. lower level visitor entry hall, security check, ticketing, and the large elevator lobby where visitors hop a ride to the top. “Creating a Chicago-themed museum there was a major undertaking,” said Jim Mallerdino, Senior Project Manager at Chicago Scenic. “The entire Skydeck experience was reconceived as a major showcase for the Chicago story—from the entry through ticketing queues and security into a 12,000 sq. ft. exhibition space,” he added.

Huge colorful graphics are the backdrop that supports visitors’ immediate immersion in the exploration of leading Chicago brands, institutions, and attractions. Chicago Scenic fabricated and installed all the scenic elements, including the realistic, life-sized replica of Chicago’s iconic “Elevated train car”.

Visitors entering the “El’ car view media projections mapped onto the interior windows, giving riders the impression they are actually traveling along the tracks through Chicago’s ethnically diverse neighborhoods. As guests enjoy the ride, they hear the sounds, languages and music of various neighborhoods. Lighting and video programs are synced to sound effects, so as the train ‘stops’ and ‘starts’, even the seats rumble with vibrations to complete the ride’s sensory experience.

Visitors also walk through exhibits featuring the city’s origins and history, showcasing historical places and events such as Fort Dearborn and the Great Chicago Fire, to rebuilding Chicago with its world class architectural legacy, Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower, Merchandise Mart. The new experience celebrates Chicago’s legendary music legacy—including the city’s many festivals, venues, clubs, and local bars.

A section on the renowned comedy company, The Second City, highlights Chicago’s popular comedians and brings the city’s improv comedy scene to life. Also featured in the visitor experience: exhibits calling forward the words and deeds of legendary, iconic figures – including former President Barack Obama and basketball great Michael Jordan.

Chicago Scenic started on the Skydeck Chicago project in February 2020, working to manage pre-construction estimation, project management and integration with the facility, as well as the fabrication and installation. Our role involved managing 12 subcontractors during the complex buildout that features state of the art AV and lighting hardware systems, graphic design, custom lightboxes, architectural modeling, bronze casting, custom metal production, exhibit display cases, large-scale signage and much more.

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