Burj Khalifa? What about the time Schaumburg planned the world's tallest building?

January 14, 2010

The Schaumburg Space Needle
The Schaumburg Space Needle

News of the 2,700ft tall Burj Khalifa opening last week in Dubai UAE sent me to the files. And by "files" I mean a big box of random stuff that I keep. My kids' kindergarten drawings are in there, as is my 3rd grade report card.‚  And so are the images we'll be checking out today. Meet the Space Needle: the world's tallest building--proposed in 1973...for the suburb of Schaumburg.

Stop that snickering.

More than 500 feet taller than the Willis (nee Sears) Tower, the 2,000 ft‚  Schaumburg Space Needle was planned for the intersection of I-290 and I-90. It would have been the anchor of‚  a staggeringly large proposed redevelopment project called Outer Planets.‚  In a 4" thick presentation book--complete with a faux wood grain cover--Outer Planets' developer Lee N. Romano outlined plans for moving sidewalks, vehicular people movers and private police and fire departments for the complex.‚  And what self-respecting futuristic plan would be complete without... 

a monorail (but not JBs)
A must-have feature for every mid to late 20th century plan: a monorail 

...a monorail?

And there's a reason why the building looks like the famed‚  Seattle Space Needle built for the 1962 World's Fair:  Romano hired the Seattle landmark's architects, John Graham & Associates, for the project. Schaumburg's needle would have been three times taller than Seattle's though.

Why Schaumburg? Why not? Schaumburg was then a city on the come-up, gaining residents and new corporations--many fleeing Chicago--by the year. The town had what was then the world's largest shopping plaza with Woodfield Mall. Would having world's tallest building be so absurd? Zoning for the project was approved.

Besides, other suburbs were thinking big. In 1966, the town of Lake Barrington approved zoning for Hi-City, a 1,320 ft office tower planned for Pepper Road and Northwest Highway. Businessman Merrill Foster told the Tribune the Hi-City building would house the 1971 World Science Fair, and then "remain as a token of the space age and will serve the great northwest [suburbs]."  

A rendering of the Outer Planets complex with the Space Needle at right
A rendering of the Outer Planets complex with Space Needle at right

Despite getting the go-ahead from Schaumburg officials,‚ Romano, who had been a successful developer in the northwest suburbs, could never chase down enough financing to build the project. Outer Planets fell to earth in the late 1970s and the Schaumburg downzoned the sprawling tracts of land on which the project would have sat. The Woodfield Corporate Center now occupies the site.