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A View From the Top: Chicago's Towers

Aug 28, 2008
Museums, shopping, entertainment, food...a visit to Chicago provides excellent educational and entertaining experiences for touring student groups. But when all is said and done, there's nothing as inspiring as a view from the top. Rising above Chicago's skyline, the Sears Tower and the John Hancock Center are two of the most educational skyscrapers in the world.

At 110 stories, the Sears Tower is the tallest building in the United States and the third tallest building in the world. Commissioned by Sears, Roebuck and Company, construction began in 1970. The structure has the second most floor space of any building. Only the Pentagon in Washington, DC has larger floor space.

For student visitors, the Sears Tower Skydeck offers one of the best views of Chicago, as well as distances up to 40-50 miles away. The Skydeck also has high-powered telescopes allowing visitors to see portions of four states: Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

Beginning with their arrival at the Sears Tower, student groups will experience art and artistry:

- The Wacker Drive entrance contains the sculpture "Universe," designed by Alexander Calder, a noted American sculptor. The massive sculpture features seven elements, each of which is driven by its own motor as its own speed. Inset into the large red granite floor tiles are stainless steel medallions of varying sizes. The medallions are representations of the construction of the building.

- The Skydeck's entrance pavilion off of Jackson Boulevard is paved with warm red granite from Argentina and has flags from many countries hanging overhead.

During a visit to the Sears Tower, students learn the average sway of the building is approximately six inches from true center. The elevators operate as fast as 1,600 feet per minute, making them some of the fastest in the world. The second level contains exhibits chronicling the construction of the building, and a free public film - "Over Chicago." From the Skydeck, students can be challenged to identify some of Chicago's famous landmarks.

Just a few minutes away on North Michigan Avenue, the John Hancock Center, named after the John Hancock Insurance Company, stands at 100 stories above the Magnificent Mile. When it was completed in 1969 it was the tallest building in the world outside of New York City. Today it is the fourth tallest building in the United States.

For those students interested in architecture, the Hancock Center is one of the most famous buildings of the structural expressionist style, which was pioneered by Bangladeshi-American structural civil engineer, Fazlur Kahn. The building's distinctive X-bracing exterior hints at its tubular system that acts as a spine and helps the building stand upright during high winds and in the event of an earthquake. This unique system has made the Hancock Center a cultural icon.

On the 94th floor, the newly renovated Observation Deck provides views that span 80 miles and four states. The open-air viewing area allows students to feel the wind in their hair a thousand feet above ground level, and find out firsthand why Chicago is called the "Windy City". "Soundscope" talking telescopes provide sound effects so real that students will think they are hearing the baseball fans cheering at nearby Wrigley Field.

Audio Sky Tours provide inside information that even the most seasoned Chicagoans may not know. Stretched out before students' eyes, the History Wall traces Chicago's rise from marsh to metropolis on a giant 80-foot display. More than 100 photos depict everything from the great Chicago fire to the first skyscraper. Students can also take a memento of their trip to the observatory with a unique photo. The observatory provides an artistic backdrop where visitors to pose as a construction worker enjoying lunch on one of the tower beams or a skyscraper window washer.

Travel Adventures is a student tour provider staffed by educators who understand the needs of teachers. It has served over one half million students since 1987 and its mission is to "empower teachers to create change by expanding the classroom to the world." To discover more about Travel Adventures and its many educational programs, visit http://www.traveladventures.com.
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travel adventures Travel Adventures is a student tour provider staffed by educators who understand the needs of teachers. It has served over one half million students since 1987 and its mission is to "empower teachers to create change by expanding the classroom to the world."
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