Here’s an awkward press conference: today the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat announced that its own hometown’s Willis Tower (which we will continue to call The Sears Tower) will no longer be considered the tallest building in the United States. That honor will go to the new One World Trade Center (aka “Freedom Tower”) with an official height of 1776 feet.
It’s a more complicated development than you might think:
The announcement culminated weeks of speculation about the ruling, which drew widespread attention because it would finally settle the issue of whether Chicago or New York could claim bragging rights to having the nation’s and the Western Hemisphere’s tallest building, as well as whether One World Trade Center would achieve the symbolic height of 1,776 feet.
The issue at hand was whether to consider the WTC tower’s spire as part of the building itself rather than an antenna, which wouldn’t count as part of its overall height.
And yes, there’s PR all over this story.
The council organized a committee to consider the issue, and a team of international architects and engineers listened to testimony from spokespeople like The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the firm that built the tower before reaching their conclusion.
Then it was spin time.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel strongly disagreed with the council’s decision, telling journalists:
“I would just say to all the experts gathered in one room, if it looks like an antenna, acts like an antenna, then guess what? It is an antenna.”
David Childs, the architect behind the Freedom Tower, damaged his own case by calling the spire “an exposed antenna”, but the Port Authority fought back, making sure that they lit the “spire” right before the council began considerations in order to demonstrate that it’s more than an antenna. And this came after the council issued a stinging report in September about firms around the world adding such spires to their buildings in order to reach “vanity height[s]” like, say, 1776 feet.
Yes, the decision revolved around architectural details, but we see this as a case study in media relations and lobbying.
The lesson? Choose your words very carefully.
(Photo via Antonio Perez, E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune)