Inside Look at Catalog
October 16, 2019
The ambitious project welcomes its first tenants and the public.
Two years after work started on a massive project to wrap the base of Chicago’s iconic Willis Tower in a new retail and entertainment annex, the public is getting their first glimpse at the 300,000-square-foot space, known as Catalog.
The name is an homage to the building’s former namesake tenant, the Sears Roebuck Company, which disrupted retail with its famous mail-order catalog and built the 1,453-foot tower back in 1973. Its current owner, EQ Office, says the name also represents the addition’s mission to provide “a catalog of different experiences.”
Although work on the project is ongoing, it’s hard to miss the changes along Jackson Boulevard, where the five-story Catalog structure rises in the place of the blank stone wall that long dominated the southern third of the tower’s block-sized site.
“Before, it didn’t look like you were entering an entertainment complex,” says Kirsten Hull, of EQ Office. “It resembled a pink granite fortress. Our goal was to change the dynamic and make the tower part of the urban fabric.”
Catalog was conceived as a congregating place for people who lived and worked in the area as well as tourists headed to the 103rd-floor observation deck, according to Office EQ. Fifty percent of Skydeck visits take place after 5 p.m. or on the weekends, so creating a space that feels active even after office workers head home was important.
Designed by the Chicago office of global architecture firm Gensler, the Catalog is undoubtedly more inviting than the granite wall and sunken entrance it replaced along Jackson Boulevard. The highlight of the space is a curving glass skylight that allows visitors to peer up at the tower through a diagonal grid holding 240 panes of glass.