The John Hancock Center in Chicago

Photo of The John Hancock Center in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of The John Hancock Center in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
  Scroll down for more pictures  
Photo of The John Hancock Center in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of The John Hancock Center in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of The John Hancock Center in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of The John Hancock Center in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of The John Hancock Center in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of The John Hancock Center in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of The John Hancock Center in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of The John Hancock Center in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of The John Hancock Center in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of The John Hancock Center in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of The John Hancock Center in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of The John Hancock Center in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz. Licensed to Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of The John Hancock Center in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of The John Hancock Center in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of The John Hancock Center in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz. Licensed to Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of The John Hancock Center in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz. Licensed to Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of The John Hancock Center in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation

Chicago, Water Tower, Detail

Posted to the Flickr Pool by lalobamfw

Add your photos!

Royalty-free architecture stock photography

The John Hancock Center
Also known as:Big John

875 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, Gold Coast 60611
Previous   Random   Next

Print this page   •   Share this page   •   Map This

An iconic presence in a city of architectural icons, the John Hancock Center rises boldly from the mid-American prairie to cast a cultural shadow much larger than the one it gets from the sun.

It is a staple of movies, television newscasts, t-shirts, corporate logos and children's drawings. The John Hancock Center is photographed, idealized, and simplified into its various components and used for all things Chicago. It is visible everywhere, both visually, and in branding for all sorts of products and companies in the city and suburbs. But once you get beyond a 50-mile radius, the Hancock's identity begins to fade and become confused with its taller, younger, possibly even better-looking sibling, the Sears Tower.

It's not surprising that the majority of Americans confuse the Hancock Center and the Sears Tower. Both were erected at roughly the same time. Both are black monoliths. And both are located in hard core fly-over territory. In fact, many tourists are surprised to learn that Chicago has not one, but four supertowers with a fifth under construction. When it comes to scraping the sky, New York and Los Angeles simply can't compete with Chicago.

In its simplest form, the John Hancock Center is four vertical beams connected by a series of cross braces forming a square tube. It's perfectly comprehensible to even the most casual observer and the reason you can sometimes see it scrawled on sidewalks in childrens' chalk doodles. A simple rectangle filled with X's topped by two sticks representing the building's antennae is an almost universal symbol of Chicago for millions of people.

More importantly, the steel exoskeleton made construction cheaper. According to the AIA Guide to Chicago, the 100-story John Hancock Center was erected for about what it cost to build a contemporary 45-story office building.

The John Hancock Center doesn't fuss with setbacks like other tall structures. Its broad shoulders carry its massive girth all the way to the top. But that's not to say it's a box. The tower tapers as it gets higher, an unnecessary use of forced perspective in a skyscraper that is already one of the biggest in the world. The effect is that the glass and steel obelisk appears even taller than it really is.

The construction of the Hancock Center was a game-changer for Chicago's North Side. Before 1969, North Michigan Avenue was lined with fairly uniform and elegant mid- and low-rise buildings that some compared to the look and feel of Paris. When the John Hancock Center came online, it ushered in a wave of skyscraper building along the Magnificent Mile that transformed it into a modern canyon of commerce.

There was originally supposed to be two skyscrapers here, which is why it is called John Hancock Center, not the John Hancock Building. The second tower would gave been East of the first, but the developers could not wrest the land at 195 East Delaware Place away from the very private Casino Club. The developers sent a letter about the second tower to then-club president Doris Winterbotham. She ignored the letter and the development went forward with only one tower. The letter in question was found in Winterbotham's papers after she died, and was later publicized by the Chicago Tribune.

Quick Facts
  • Height to tower roof: 1,106 feet, six inches.
  • Height to penthouse roof: 1,127 feet.
  • Height to top of east antenna: 1,506.25 feet.
  • Size at base: 47,000 square feet
  • Size at top: 17,000 square feet
  • Steel used: 46,000 tons.
  • Designed by: Bruce J. Graham and Fazlur R. Khan
  • Developer: Jerry Wolman
  • Elevators: 42
  • Stairs from the lobby to the observation deck: 1,632.
  • Light tubed on the 99th floor: 555. It takes 40-50 hours to change the tinted sleeves over the tubes by hand.
  • Parking spaces: 750.
  • Office floor space: 897,000 square feet
  • Retail floor space: 171,800 square feet
  • Observation deck floor space: 17,400 square feet
  • Commercial address: 875 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60611
  • Residential address: 175 East Delaware Place, Chicago, Illinois 60611
  • 1965: Plans for the John Hancock Center are announced.
  • 1969: Construction is completed.
  • 1972: The Hancock Center is surpassed by the Standard Oil Building (now the Aon Center) as the tallest building in Chicago.
  • 1973: The residential portion of this building converts from apartments to condominiums.
  • June, 1988: A proposal was floated to build a massive $20 million, three-story atrium in front of this building. Designed by Green Hiltscher Shapiro, it would have extended all the way to the North Michigan Avenue sidewalk and had colonnades on the north and south sides of the building.
  • November 11, 1981: Stuntman Dan Goodwin climbs the outside of the building. It takes him six hours to get to the top.
  • 1989: The mall plan is scuttled by residents and critics.
  • May, 1997: The 94th floor observatory reopens after a $2.5 million renovation.
  • December 18, 1997: Comedian Chris Farley dies in his home on the 60th floor.
  • March 9, 2002: Three women were killed when a scaffold broke apart in high winds and rained debris on the street below, crushing two cars.
  • August 10, 2006: WLS Television reports the John Hancock Center could be sold.
  • 2007: This building was sold for $383 million.
  • September 2010: A new attraction was announced for the 94th floor observatory: 50x20-foot skating rink, made of a synthetic substance called "Skating in the Sky."
  • September, 2010: This building was named #1 on Chicago Magazine's list of the Top 40 Buildings in Chicago.
  • June, 2013: The office portion of this building and its parking garage were sold. Crain's Chicago Business estimated the sale price was $145 million.
  • This was formerly the location of a surface parking lot.
  • At the time of its completion, this was the tallest building in Chicago, surpassing the Daley Center.
  • There is a public observation deck on the 94th floor. It is 1,000 feet above Michigan Avenue.
  • The restaurant on the 95th floor of this building was formerly called The 95th. It is now The Signature Room.
  • One section of the observation deck is open to the outside, but is still screened in.
  • The Hancock Center has 2,800,000 square feet of space.
  • 47 floors of the Hancock Center are residential. It is like a city unto itself, and people do not have to leave the building. The people who live there have their own post office, supermarket, day care center, shops, full-sized swimming pool, library, gym, and other amenities.
  • Because the building is tapered, homes on different levels have different amounts of space even if they have the same floorplan.
  • The most coveted views are to the North, overlooking Lincoln Park, and where there is less noise from the city.
  • The second-most popular view is to the West over the suburbs and spectacular sunsets, followed by the South view of the city.
  • East views are least popular, especially on higher floors, because the blue lake melds with the blue sky and there's not much to see other than blue.
  • Some Southern views are problematic because they overlook the roof of Water Tower Place. Residents complain that it's like having a parking lot outside their windows.
  • At the time it was completed, this building had 720 apartments. That number has been reduced as various units were combined to make larger homes.
  • *The residential portion of the building has three elevator banks. One for freight, one for passengers, and one for emergency evacuations.
  • This building and others surrounding it were erected at the location of the first City of Chicago cemetery. While all of the graves were supposed to have been moved to the former cemetery in what is now Lincoln Park construction in the area still turns up the occasional body.
  • Before the 2009 switchover to digital television the Hancock Center's two masts carried the transmitting antennae for ten TV stations and five backup TV transmitters.
  • The Eastern mast is the taller of the two. It is 1,503 feet and three inches from the ground to the tip.
  • For decades the Signature Room, the restaurant at the top of the Hancock, would keep its wine in a wine cellar -- literally. Even though the restaurant is on the 94th floor, wine was kept in the basement and brought up as needed. All of the wine was moved upstairs around 2000.
  • The studios of WLUP Radio are in this building.
  • The studios of WUSN Radio are in this building.
  • The Hancock elevators are billed as the fastest in America, climbing 95 stories in 40 seconds.
  • Famed architect Mies van der Rohe once designed a skyscraper for this plot, but it was never built and today's John Hancock Center took its place.
  • The women's bathrooms at the 96th floor bar are routinely named the best in the city, in no small part because of the view.
  • Talk show host Jerry Springer rented a condominium on the 91st floor of this building when his show was filed in Chicago. It moved to Connecticut in 2009.
  • The restaurant on the 95th floor of this building is where President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle had their first date.
  • A 20-foot-tall star used to be suspended between the building's antennae during the Christmas season.
  • The exterior of the building's 98th floor is lined with 500 eight-foot-tall light panels. Colored tubes are put over them by hand to change the colors.
Related Video
On the Wrong Side of the Glass
A look outside through a hole where glass should be in the side of the John Hancock Center

Video courtesy of the Chicago Architecture Blog.

Stacking Diagram
Did You Know?
  • On a clear day it is possible to see Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
  • The garden plaza in front of the John Hancock Center once had a public ice skating rink.
  • Though not visible from the outside, many of the residences in this building have screened-in balconies known as "sky terraces."
  • Comedian and actor Chris Farley died in this building. He lived in 6002 (60th floor).
  • The residential portion of the building is its own election district. People who live here can vote without going below the 44th floor.
  • There is a time capsule at the top of the building. Among the items inside is a piece of Paris' Eiffel Tower.
  • This building was used in a 1993 Super Bowl commercial for McDonald's.
  • This was one of the filming locations for the 2005 movie Stranger Than Fiction.
  • In the August 10, 2010 edition of the Chicago Tribune, WGN-TV meteorologist Tom Skilling wrote that the John Hancock Center is so tall that the air at the top is six degrees cooler than the air at the sidewalk level.
Tourist Tips
  • Both the Willis Tower and the John Hancock Center have observation decks. The John Hancock Center has the better view, so if time or money are precious you can skip the Sears Tower.
  • Long lines form for the observation deck in the warmer months, so it is worth your while to buy and print tickets in advance on the internet so you can jump to the head of the line.
  • You must go down to go up. The entrance to the observatory is below ground. There are plenty of signs directing people down to the entrance, but some people find it hard to believe that they would need to descend stairs when their goal is 1,000 feet above their heads.
Look For
  • The building's signature cross braces, each 18 stories tall.
  • When this project was proposed there was fierce opposition because it would increase traffic in the area.
  • Critics panned the design as reminiscent of an oil derrick.
  • "It is, without a doubt, the best super-tall tower in town."

    -Chicago Tribune, August 25, 1996

  • "The Hancock... looks mighty great from afar, and mighty dorky from the main entrance... Up close, the Hancock is all warts. The south lobby... looks like a Prague train station... The Grand Avenue subway is about as nice and it has gum machines... The north lobby, where people go to live in this thing, is as jolly as a marble-clad boxcar on a siding in Kansas City."

    -Chicago Tribune, August 28, 1988

Rate This Skyscraper
method='post' action='/Building.php?ID=1006#Rate'>Current rating:50% 80%  name='Rating' id='Rating' value='Praise' class='Plain'> name='Rating' id='Rating' value='Raze' class='Plain'>
The John Hancock Center in Chicago.  Photo by Reilly Tillman
Reilly Tillman
Your Thoughts

There are 15 comments.

  I watched that baby being "born" from the ground up every single day, while I was going to college, so I have a very special place in my heart for it. Always will! â¤ï¸

Alina N Glez - Sunday, January 10th, 2016 @ 4:58pm  

  While located in Chicago and certainly part of the Chicago School, more than anything else the Hancock is American. Where does this imagination come from? The daring, the courage, the audacity and the talent? The Hancock is a tower of sheer strength, masculinity and I can't help but think it's true north faces west as Lewis and Clark did. Those were heady times for the United States. A man on the moon. A beacon such as the Hancock. What happened to that America? The Hancock continues to exude and instill such a spirit. I'm from Mississippi. I came here for work and I chose Streeterville as my neighborhood so I could walk by the JH every work day. I take a photo of it almost every day. Sometimes I take 10. Though wildly different from Mies van der Rohe, Graham tips his hat 10 different ways to the grand master. I was walking on Michigan Avenue with an out-of-town friend recently at a spot where we could see both the Trump and the Hancock. My buddy liked the Trump of the two and I can understand that. It's an interestingly shaped glass building and of course, tall. He asked me why my strong preference for the JH. I didn't know where to start, so I just summed it up by saying I liked the design. "What about the design?" I told him the JH would always stand the test of time, even 100 years from now. "How?" It's an Egyptian Pyramid that ripped it's way out of the ground to catch clouds or maybe even the moon.

ralph braseth - Friday, November 4th, 2011 @ 11:48pm  

  I visited Chicago last summer and I fell in love with this building almost imediately. I feel it was designed around two simple ideas, and it carries both to the end: its decreasing on horizontal area towards the top and its blackness. Beautiful, clever and inspiring. A pleasure to see from everywhere. Romantic, in a sense. Love it!

Julio - Thursday, August 4th, 2011 @ 3:26am  

  I was raised in the Windy City so I am very familiar with the buildings of course. I now live in Wyoming and miss Chicago so much! The John Hancock has ALWAYS been my favorite skyscraper. Each building has its own individuality but there is something about The Hancock . The Sears Tower is awesome but in my opinion it pales beyond comparison to The Hancock!

Heidi Snider - Saturday, September 25th, 2010 @ 12:44pm  

  I was at Navy Pier on June 23rd, and liked one of the photos I took, where you can see the design up close with Water Tower Place near it's top portion. I also had good ones of Trump Tower (Chicago). The camera was digital, so it was really cool when they turned out.

Brent Kampert - Friday, July 9th, 2010 @ 3:27pm  

  It is THE iconic Chicago building in my view. The northern Big Shoulder acting with its southern sibling the Sears to frame the skyline. In my view better than the Sears and the view across the scraper jungle is superb.

ChiFan - Thursday, May 7th, 2009 @ 6:23pm  

  Perhaps I'm a bit biased being a native Chicagoan, but the John Hancock Building is by far my favorite skyscraper in the world. I would be transfixed on it anytime I drove downtown with my dad. But I hate that now one antenna is now slightly taller than the other. For me that messed up the symmetry that made this building so special. Of course I still love it, but damn it, remove that stupid extension on the east antenna!!

Reilly Tillman - Sunday, November 23rd, 2008 @ 10:52pm  

  I like how it makes the skyline stand out that much more when it's design is trapezoidal. Just think, this was Chicago's first super-tall skyscraper. Sadly, it will be the city's 5th tallest building by 2012.

Brent Kampert - Saturday, October 18th, 2008 @ 3:12pm  

  The observatory of Hancock have bette. view then sky dack of Sears Tower. If you haven't possibility to visit bouth, choose Hanckock.

Vistex - Sunday, June 22nd, 2008 @ 12:23pm  

  These are the highest residences in the world -- for now, at least.

Cris Novak - Saturday, May 24th, 2008 @ 2:29pm  

  This is classic Chicago. It's what makes people proud to be from the midwest. It shows that anyone who considers this to be nothing more than a "flyover state" is really just ignorant.

Aaron Burger - Saturday, May 24th, 2008 @ 12:41pm  

  I haven't been in this building in about 7 years, but the last time I was there, I was at the bar on the 96th floor late at night. The view was breathtaking, and Navy pier looked so beautiful lit up. It was unforgettable.

Dave - Monday, December 31st, 2007 @ 2:31pm  

  I love what this building evokes. It's stance and positioning to the north give it a certain air of authority, like a sentinel watching over the city. The forced perspective and exoskeletal-like exterior give it a menacing look. With all that communications hardware up top there's a certain (fictional) military aesthetic at work here. It's like if Darth Vader ever built himself a skyscraper this would be it. I'd like to see firms come up with more structural innovations like SOM did with this building and push architecture in different and even more interesting directions.

Aurelius - Thursday, October 11th, 2007 @ 11:12am  

  I'm from NY, but I truly think Chicago is the city of innovative archtecture - way beyond NYC. Chicago is not afraid of moving into the future with ground-breaking, spectacular heights and designs. It was mind blowing when I was a kid, seeing photos of the Sears Tower and Big John. That's what got me hooked into being an Architect. Don't get me wrong, the Chrysler Building is still one of my favorites, but Big John, because of its straight forward disign and angles (looking like a Texas oil rig emerging into the middle of a congested skyline) is an amazing look! It has such great views from the top; in my opinion, they're the best in Chicogo.

Digital Junkie - Monday, July 23rd, 2007 @ 2:46am  

  The John Hancock building (Big John) is my view every day. I could choose the lake, turn toward the Sears Tower or watch the Trump Tower being built, but there is something imposing about the John Hancock that literally "trumps" the other buildings of Chicago.My favorite build anywhere and I been to lots of big cities. NY, HK, KL, all have claims but Chicago is the king.

Travis Hill - Monday, April 3rd, 2006 @ 4:38pm