Environment: The Tallest Skyscraper

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The tower in many ways will be comparable to a small city. Its electrical system could serve all of Rockford, Ill. (pop. 147,000), and its air-conditioning complex could cool 6,000 houses. The structure contains enough concrete to pave over 78 football fields; it has 80 miles of elevator cables. S.O.M. designers have also learned from the bad experiences of other supersky-scraper builders. For example, to prevent elevators from automatically rising to floors where a fire has broken out (because the elevator buttons are designed to respond to heat—from passengers' fingertips), operators in the building's security control center can override the automatic system, sending cars to other floors.

The Sears Tower has already come under attack from critics who argue that it will add to the congestion of Chicago's Loop. It has also been criticized on aesthetic grounds, and is certainly a far cry from the conventional, slick, sheer-walled slab. But S.O.M. was really following the old dictum of Louis Sullivan, one of Chicago's pioneers in skyscraper architecture, that form must follow function. By such a standard, the tower has an honesty of design that most urban buildings lack. Indeed, the tallest building in the world is perhaps a forerunner of skyscrapers with a new kind of spare, utilitarian beauty.

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