tilt

Chicago's TILT puts new slant on observation decks

May 7, 2014 at 10:42 AM ET

Video: At the top of the John Hancock Center, tourists check out the new “Tilt,” which offers them a dizzying look down into the Windy City. NBC’s Kevin Tibbles reports.

While most observation decks elicit responses ranging from “ahh” to “ooh,” visitors to Chicago’s John Hancock Center may be more inclined to opt for something like, “Whoa!” 

On Saturday, the building’s 94th-floor observation deck will unveil TILT, a glass-lined, 8-person enclosure that will pivot out from the building façade and provide views that stretch from the city skyline to Michigan Avenue, almost 1,000 feet below.

As such, it promises to provide a whole new slant on the observation deck experience.

“Traditionally, visiting an observation deck has been a fairly passive experience where you go up to a floor, stand at the windows and take in the view,” said Nichole Williamson, general manager of 360 Chicago, which owns and operates the observation deck. “The idea came to us to introduce a sense of movement into the experience.”

That experience entails standing in a bank of bays as the enclosure pivots outward and tilts downward 30 degrees for about 30 seconds.

“You definitely get the sense that something unusual is happening as you start to tilt out,” said Williamson. “You can see directly down the face of the building, which is a view you don’t normally get to see.”

Having done it dozens of times herself — “usually in 4-inch heels” — she says the experience is designed to be thrilling rather than terrifying.

It may also be designed, in part, to compete with Skydeck Chicago, the crosstown rival atop the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower. In 2009, the latter unveiled The Ledge, a cluster of (stationary) glass enclosures that jut out from the building’s 103rd floor.

“We thought it would be the daredevil types who’d go for it,” said general manager Randy Stancik, “but when I see a group of senior citizens acting like 5-year-olds, it tells me there’s no single demographic for it.”

Neither Williamson nor Stancik is about to dis the other’s offering, preferring to view the attractions as complementary rather than directly competitive. 

“The fact that Chicago has two observation decks with two very distinct views and experiences speaks to the city’s history as the home of architectural innovation and the variety of options for visitors,” said Williamson.

Adult admission to the 360 Chicago observation deck is $18; introductory TILT tickets are an additional $5. Adult Skydeck admission is $19 and includes The Ledge.

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