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Above Chicago, Cracking on the Ledge

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

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The sound and sight of protective coatings cracking at the top of America's tallest building has left visitors shaken, but officials insist the failure held no danger.

The episode Wednesday (May 28) terrified tourists on the 103rd-floor glass ledge of Chicago's Willis Tower (formerly, and still commonly, called the Sears Tower).

Skydeck
The Ledge Factsheet

The protective coating cracked beneath visitors on The Ledge, but officials said no one was in danger.

Alejandro Garibay, 23, of California, and four family members were posing for photos on one of the four glass lookout ledges atop the skyscraper when they heard cracking noises and saw “lines going through the glass,” he told media outlets.

“We immediately jumped off as fast as we could,” Garibay said, who sent his a photo of the damaged ledge to several news outlets.

“The Ledge” experience on the 103rd floor of the skyscraper consists of fully enclosed, retractable glass boxes that jut out from the building about four feet.

Opened in 2009, the glass boxes—comprised of three layers of half-inch-thick glass laminated into a seamless unit—are designed to hold five tons and have been coated in a protective layer to prevent scratching.

No Danger to Visitors

Despite the scare, Willis Tower officials say Garibay and his family weren’t in any danger.

TheLedge cracking - Garibay
Courtesy Alejandro Garibay / NBC Chicago

Alejandro Garibay provided this photo of the cracked glass to several news outlets.

"At no time whatsoever was the integrity of the structure compromised," Bill Utter, a Willis Tower spokesman, told news bureaus.

“Occasionally, the protective coating will crack, as it is designed to in order to protect the surface of the glass,” according to a post on the Willis Tower’s Facebook page.

No information about the coating type was available. Neither the owner nor the contractor responded to a request last week for more information.

The coating has cracked on The Ledge three times in the last five years, according to the Chicago Tribune. The protective coating is routinely replaced every six to nine months, the newspaper reported, citing MTH Industries, of Chicago, the contractors who installed the 1,500-pound glass panels in 2009.

Closed for Repairs

Inspectors from the city’s building department closed down the skyboxes Thursday so that a new layer of protective coating and glass could be installed on the damaged box.

The unaffected skyboxes reopened Thursday afternoon, according to the Tribune.

Ledge coating and glass replacement
Skydeck Facebook Image

Glass and architectural metal contractor MTH Industries replaced the cracked coating and installed a new layer of glass to the damaged Ledge.

Later Thursday evening, Willis Tower officials announced on Facebook that the new coating had been installed and the affected Ledge would reopen Friday (May 30) after city inspectors had a chance to examine the new installation.

Willis Tower posted photos of the glass and architectural metal contractors performing work on the damaged skybox, pulling off the cracked coating and putting in new glass.

MTH Industries did not immediately respond Friday to a request for more information about the dizzying project.

Skydeck and Ledge

The Skydeck attracts 1.3 million visitors annually who are able to view up to 50 miles and four states.

The Ledge dares visitors to “feel the city from 103 floors over Wacker Drive and the Chicago River” and is intended to be a sort of thrill ride.

Inspiration for The Ledge came from hundreds of forehead prints left behind on Skydeck windows and the Sears Tower scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, in which children were going right up to window, according to project details.

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill designed The Ledge. They also designed the original landmark building in 1974.

   

Tagged categories: Architecture; Commercial Buildings; Glass coatings; Health and safety

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