Skylon Tower

5200vRobinson Street, Niagara Falls, ON.

Constructed atop the moraine overlooking the Horseshoe and American Falls, the Skylon is an observation tower, tourist attraction, and visual landmark in Niagara Falls.  Rising from a three-storey entertainment complex, a concrete tower supports a “globe” containing two restaurants (one of which revolves) and an indoor/outdoor observation deck.  New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Ontario Premier John Robarts officially opened Skylon on Oct. 6, 1965.

The Skylon Tower is part of a long history of observation structures overlooking Niagara Falls, which began in the 19th century and continues to the present day.  Originally conceived as the New International Center Tower, the project was designed to be the tallest structure in Niagara Falls.  It was developed by W.P. Piggott of Piggott’s Construction of Hamilton, Richard V. Reese of Niagara Falls, New York, and William Young of the Hamilton Cotton Company, Hamilton.

The Space Needle, constructed for the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, influenced the conception of the tower at Niagara Falls.  With its space age imagery, technological prowess, and unparalleled views, the Space Needle attracted 20,000 visitors a day and garnered international attention.  The project was published in the Journal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada in March 1962.

For the design of the Skylon Tower, Bregman and Hamann Architects collaborated with structural engineers Farkas, Barron & Jablonsky.  The general contractor was Piggott’s Construction Company, and the site engineers were H.G. Acres & Company.

The tower was built between Murray and Robinson Streets, 76m above the base of the falls.  The base of the tower comprised a three-storey entertainment complex of 9,750 sq.m. with shopping, an arcade, and restaurants.

The shaft of the tower is a tri-legged structure of reinforced concrete supporting the globe at the top.  The form of the three-storey globe is a tapered, truncated cylinder.  It accommodates an indoor/outdoor observation deck, a revolving restaurant and stationary restaurant.  The uppermost roof is clad in copper, referencing monumental 19th and 20th century buildings across Canada.

Predating Toronto’s CN Tower by 11 years, the Skylon Tower was a considerable engineering and construction accomplishment.  The height to the top of the spire is 160m from street level, and the foundations descend to a depth of almost 15m, with a diameter of 28.7m.  The three-storey globe, cantilevering from the shaft, is almost 49m in diameter.  Piggott’s employed slip-form construction, a very early use of this continuous method of concrete construction.

A further innovation was the use of outside elevators, the first such application in Canada.  Designed and engineered by Otis Elevators Ltd. of Hamilton, the Skylon Tower has three high-speed elevators that travel on rails mounted between the three buttress-like legs.  Each glass-enclosed elevator has the capacity for 30 persons and travels at 152m per minute.

Employing technology that first emerged in the late 1950s, the Skylon Tower has a revolving dining room that accommodates 300 persons.  The rotating platform rests on a circular rail that moves by a 3 horsepower motor, completing one 360-degree revolution per hour.

The Skylon Tower has undergone various changes in ownership, and there have been changes in use, particularly within the three-storey entertainment complex.  In spite of these changes, the building retains its integrity.

As a highly engineered structure that combined space age imagery and technological innovations as a response to the economic opportunities of tourism in the post-war era, the Skylon Tower is one of the most significant examples of the Modern Movement in the region.

As one of the principal tourist attractions in Niagara Falls, the Skylon Tower has received millions of visitors including celebrities, heads of state and royalty.  It remains a much-loved landmark and continues to play an important role in the cultural heritage landscape of Niagara Falls.