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A Sprawling Government Complex in Willis Tower's Place

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For all the proposed towering skyscrapers that never got around to actually scraping the Chicago sky, today we're looking at a plan that might have lowered the bar considerably for future skyscraping. The Chicago Plan Commission's 1949 civic center would have taken up 41 acres of real estate bordered by Van Buren, Congress, Canal, and Madison – or right where the Sears (Willis) Tower landed in 1973.

Designed by modernist pioneer Le Corbusier, the complex would have consolidated the 80 different sites government agencies operated out of at the time into a $100 million headquarters to be used for courtrooms, the board of education, federal, state, city, and county offices. Wacker Drive would have burrowed underneath it all (see sketch at right), flanked by parking for the complex on either side.

Each branch of government was expected to help foot the bill for their part of the development but when the various agencies were slow to produce the funds, the project was delayed. By 1958, when Mayor Richard J. Daley unveiled his 20-year plan for the city, government buildings were reimagined for the heart of the Loop – now home to the Daley Center and the Chicago Federal Center – and the grand campus was out of luck.
·Unbuilt Chicago: The 1949 civic center plan [WBEZ]

—Gwendolyn Purdom