The Empire State Building, a 102-story skyscraper with a steel frame completed in New York City in 1931, was the tallest building until 1971. The Empire State Building is located in Midtown Manhattan at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street. One of the best examples of Modernist Art Deco design, it is still one of the nation’s most recognizable and well-known buildings. Here are the ten facts about the Empire State Building through an Architect’s Lens.

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The Empire State Building (2005) _©Wikimedia user Robert paul young (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

1. The Empire State Building Was A Financial Failure

When the building was opened in 1931, a little under 25% of the offices were occupied. Since only a few tenants were paying rent or using the offices and other retail space, this building was named “Empty State Building.” 

For most of the 1930s, the upper floor of this building was unoccupied. The Great Depression and the 1929 stock market crash almost wrecked the entire business. The building’s owners would instruct their workers to access the upper floors and turn on the lights to create the appearance that people were working there and occupying the space. Only when World War II started did the building begin to turn a profit.

2. A Race to Construct the World’s Tallest Building 

The fact that New York experienced an economic boom in the late 1920s before the Great Depression began is occasionally overlooked in historical texts. Construction companies competed with one another to build the world’s highest building during this period of economic boom.

Sometimes the best inspiration comes from a little healthy competition. In the 1920s, New York City saw a lot of competition. Everyone who was a reputable business person wanted to win the “Race into the Sky” since construction was booming. Walter Chrysler, the man behind the Chrysler Building, was mainly driven to succeed. To surpass the height of the Empire State Building, he had a spire built onto the roof of his building. Despite that, John Raskob, the Empire State Building’s builder, was unconcerned. After going through them, he modified ideas to include five floors and a spire. Being 360 meters (just under 1,200 feet) higher than Chrysler’s observation deck gave him the victory for the day.

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New York Skyscrapers_©ny.curbed.com/maps/new-york-skyscraper-construction-supertalls

3. Rapid Completion of the Empire State Building

Imagine you have to build the world’s tallest building in just 13 months. The task seems enormous before you learn that 3,500 others will work with you. The brand-new skyscraper shot into the air took less than 410 days to build and opened in 1930. It isn’t easy to appreciate the speed from the observation deck because it wasn’t free. The construction cost at least five lives even though it was finished ahead of schedule. Surprisingly, the designs for the first level were only chosen once the first 30 stories were complete. Three thousand five hundred workers demolished the Waldorf-Astoria over those 20 months, and once the drawings were finished, they quickly put the Empire State Building together. While still impressive by today’s standards, the tower added slightly more than one storey per day during its busiest periods, which was unheard of in the 1930s.

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The Empire State Building under construction_©historycollection.com

4. Expansion Of The Empire State Building By 11 Floors.

After the World Trade Center was built, architects briefly considered raising the Empire State building by 11 storeys, but the idea was rejected. To keep the title of the tallest building in the world, they contemplated constructing this; however, this plan was never implemented because of financial and other issues.

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Aerial View of Empire State Building_©Flickr

5. Housing of An Airship Docking Station

The Manhattan skyline would appear slightly different if an aircraft landed atop the Empire State Building. It may have been if it weren’t for one less-than-optimistic example. On September 15, 1931, a miniature Navy airship made 25 circles around the mast in 45 mph gusts before spending three minutes on top. As the ballast spilt, the aeroplane moved uncontrollably. Unsurprisingly, the plans for the airship docking station were swiftly discarded. There may have been better ideas to let passengers board the ship via ladders on the 101st floor. 

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US Naval Historical Center_©Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

6. Floodlights

To provide evening lighting for the building’s top, floodlights were placed in 1964. Since 1976, the lighting of the spire has been timed to coincide with several events and celebrations. In 2012, the building’s metal halide lamps and floodlights were replaced with LED bulbs, expanding the range of colours that could be seen from nine to more than 16 million. The structure can now be lit in ways plastic gels cannot, thanks to computer-controlled technology.

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Floodlights of the Empire State Building_©www.core77.com

7. Observation Decks

The outdoor Observatory of the Empire State Building is one of the most famous in the world, having received over 110 million visits. From the observation deck on the 86th level, visitors may enjoy breathtaking 360-degree views of the city. A second observation deck open to the public is located on the 102nd level. Passengers get a sneak peek of the stunning views as the elevator approaches its destination before leaving and entering the Observatory. The 102nd level is an enclosed, climate-controlled, all-weather Observation Deck with 24 new, eight-foot-tall windows that provides 360-degree views of the city and beyond from the heart of New York City.

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102nd Level Observatory Deck_©www.6sqft.com
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102nd Level Observatory Deck_©The Empire State Realty Trust

8. Above the 102nd floor.

A door in the Empire State Building’s 102nd floor connects to a set of stairs that ascend to the 103rd floor. This building’s spire-attached structure, which has a circular balcony outside, was used as an airship disembarkation platform. Celebrities now frequent it, and it provides access to the spire for upkeep. The space is now filled with electrical equipment. 

The building’s Art Deco spire was built with the purpose of housing and docking dirigibles. Travellers would use the elevator to reach the 102nd floor after checking in on the 86th level. Because there were no mooring lines to anchor the other end of the craft to the ground and significant updrafts caused by the building itself, the plan was unsafe and impractical. The mooring mast was added to the building’s design as part of a competition to create the tallest structure in the world. 

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Progress of Restoration of the Spire_©The Empire State Realty Trust

To house the transmission antennas for the FM and TV stations, a sizable broadcast tower was erected atop the spire around the beginning of the 1950s. The only owner of the property until that moment was NBC, which began building a series of smaller antennae for television transmissions in 1931.

9. The Empire State Building- An Art Deco Marvel

The Empire State Building has a far more austere appearance than the flamboyant Chrysler Building, despite its Art Deco style. Without the sunburst windows and Moderne gargoyles that adorn the older tower, the Empire State Building is relatively subdued. It has some adornment, though; two concrete statues of eagles flank the entryway, and gleaming aluminium extensions mimic wings taper upward toward the tower’s apex. The vitality of the metal crown on the Chrysler Building and the quiet dignity of the Empire State Building are two examples of how a nation’s attitudes changed before and after the start of the Great Depression.

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The skyscraper’s facade’s vertical geometry is an example of art deco design_©www.arch2o.com

The Art Deco style is characterized by heavy ornamentation, frequently in bright, metallic colours, with sunbursts, zigzags, and other dramatic shapes that often have a visual, flat appearance. As it becomes taller, the Empire State Building moves away from the street; its ultimate envelope has a pyramidal form with fewer stories. Ziggurats are a type of tall buildings that date back to Mesopotamian civilizations.

Art Deco architects frequently combined classical elements with contemporary and industrial materials. The Empire State Skyscraper is the most excellent illustration of this technology since its façade is made of 730 tonnes of aluminium and stainless steel, 200,000 cubic feet of Indiana limestone and granite, 10 million bricks, and 200,000 cubic feet of these materials.

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An illustration of a Ziggurat_©Flickr
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The mooring mast’s streamlines display an art deco-inspired geometry_©The Empire State Realty Trust

10. A Secret VIP floor

The 103rd floor of the Empire State Building is designated as the “Top Floor” for the general public. Because they are open to the air and only supported by a small ledge and a low railing, the views from the floor are disorienting for anybody afraid of heights.

The “hidden” deck, which is one level higher and only accessible to insiders, is also present, although they are unaware of it. It is only very comforting if you have a tremendous head for heights. On the “hidden” floor, even visitors to the well-liked 86th-floor observation deck seem like ants from above. The highest level of the tower accessible to the public is the 102nd level, directly underneath it.

The 103rd level of the historic building only has a brief, knee-high ledge with a modest barrier as a safety measure, unlike the stories that are accessible to the general public. Your hands and feet shake and perspire when you focus your concentration off the edge.

From the exclusive 103rd level views of the Empire State Building, visitors can see all Manhattan buildings_©i.dailymail.co.uk

References:

www.esbnyc.com. (n.d.). Architecture & Design | Empire State Building. [online] Available at: https://www.esbnyc.com/about/architecture-design [Accessed 17 Nov. 2022].

www.renoirhouse.com. (n.d.). 5 Unexpected Facts about the Empire State Building. [online] Available at: https://www.renoirhouse.com/blog/the-empire-state-building. [Accessed 17 Nov. 2022].

Kiddle.co. (2013). Empire State Building Facts for Kids. [online] Available at: https://kids.kiddle.co/Empire_State_Building [Accessed 18 Nov. 2022].

‌Nathaniel (2020). 5 Empire State Building facts you didn’t know. [online] GetYourGuide. Available at: https://www.getyourguide.com/magazine/2020/12/empire-state-building-facts/ [Accessed 18 Nov. 2022].

‌Toqa2O (n.d.). Why the Empire State Building is an Art Deco Masterpiece? [online] Available at: https://www.arch2o.com/why-the-empire-state-building-is-an-art-deco-masterpiece/ [Accessed 18 Nov. 2022].

‌Wilkinson, J. (2016). The Empire State Building’s ‘secret’ VIP floor revealed in scary pics. [online] Mail Online. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3432068/Don-t-look-Secret-103rd-floor-balcony-Empire-State-Building-revealed-vertigo-inducing-photographs.html [Accessed 18 Nov. 2022].

Author

Shivani Jadhav, a Mumbai-based architect, is attempting to explore architecture through words. She is passionate about discovering new perspectives on structures and bringing them to life through her writing. Her experiment focuses on the social, cultural, and philosophical aspects of architecture.

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