The empire state building is an iconic American building and landmark based in Manhattan, New York City. It is 102 stories high and has a total height of 443.2 m. The building is 80 years old, with construction starting in 1929 and completing in 1931. The history of the building is extremely interesting and actually stemmed from a competition between two rival motor companies; General Motors and the Chrysler Corporation in a race to build the world’s tallest sky scraper in New York City.
The empire state building was based upon the drawings of a smaller construction known as the Reynolds Building by the architectural firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon. The construction of the building was financed by two leading directors in the firm General Motors, John. J Raskob and Pierre. S.Du Pont . It is widely believed that the competition between the two companies to build the world tallest building was to highlight their wealth and pit their wits against one another. It cost general motors around $41 million to build which is the equivalent to $550 million in today’s economy.
The ownership of the building has changed many times over the years but it is currently owned by a holding company known as Empire State Building Associates with over two thousand investors owning a stake in the company. The original general contractor for the build was a company called The Starrett Brothers and Eken but the building actually required over 3000 workers during its construction. The first excavation of the site and the laying of the foundations began on January 21st 1929 and the building was opened on May 1st 1931, just 410 days after construction began.
Upon its opening, The Empire State building became the world’s tallest building, surpassing the already completed Chrysler Building, and held this tile for four decades until the opening of the world trade centre in 1972. The reason that the building was constructed in such a short period of time, when you take into account its sheer size, was because the contractors used prefabricated steel shipped in from Pennsylvania. All steel used was made in such a way that it had a 2mm tolerance and was made to be joined together by bolts or a rivet gun. Once this steel skeleton was bolted together, it was finished with an outer layer of stone. Working on the building was dangerous as the workers, commonly known as “sky boys”, would walk around the structure joining the steel together without any safety harnesses.
An iconic image of the era saw eleven workers sitting on a steel girder hanging above the city landscape having their lunch. As well as a race to build the world tallest building, the empire state building was built to be used primarily as an office space. As of 2011, over 20,000 employees and over 1,000 businesses use the empire state building as an office. It is also used as a tourism landmark, with many travelling to the observation deck on the roof to gaze at the city below. Although successful today, the building was not an automatic success when it was first opened in 1931. America was going through a period of economic crisis now known as the great depression.
During this period a lot of stoke brokers, banks and businesses met their demise and public spending and employment hit a record low. It was because of this, as well as the buildings poor proximity to rail, bus and underground networks, that the majority of the office space in the building went unrented in its first years of opening. The building was barely self-sustainable and in its early years it made as much money out of people using the binoculars on the observation deck as they did in rent for a single year. The building finally became profitable in the 1950’s and has been financially viable ever since.
The building itself has become a huge icon in American history and has made an impact in popular culture. It has had many controversies since its opening, for instance aB-25 Mitchell bomber crashed into the building in 1945, but has also been in many different media outlets such as TV and film. Perhaps it is best known for the final scene in the 1933 film “King Kong” in which a giant ape scales the building to escape the men attempting to capture him and ultimately falls to his death. It has also been involved as the premise and opening scene for many over films including Sleepless in Seattle, Independence Day and The Time Machine, to name but a few. In terms of architectural aesthetics, the empire state building is an art deco design. Although the building does not have the typical “zigzag art deco style, its design and shape is typical of the Art Deco style” (J.Tauranac 1997)
The building is actually tiered like steps and is similar to the ancient pyramids in Giza aesthetically. It was also built in such a way that all four facades of the building are viable from street level. Another famous feature of the building is its floodlights installed to illuminate the building at night. This is famous as the floodlights colours changes in conjunction with current events, for example “every march it is lit in an explosion of white and blue to celebrate the Greek Independence Day” (J.Tauranac 1997)
When considering whether or not the building was successful, there are many different factors that have to be taken into account before drawing up a conclusion. In terms of its initial purpose for construction, to be the world’s tallest building, it can be considered successful as it towered over the city and was the world’s tallest building for 40 years. In terms of its sustainability and function, as an office space, the building was not successful for a number of years. It was funded by an automotive company that, at the time, was one of the richest companies in the world during a period of huge adverse effects on the world economy. During its construction, the wall street crash occurred which was the worst stock market crash in the history of the United States and started off a chain reaction of huge unemployment and failing businesses worldwide lasting over a decade. It can be said that the timing of the construction was not well thought out and without a doubt attributed to the building non-profitability in its early years.
Another reason previously mentioned was the poor choice of location to build the world’s largest office space. The building was near no bus stations or stops, nor no train or subway stations and had no other forms of transport near it. When this is put in contrast with its great rival the Chrysler Building, which was close to several transport links within walking distance, it can be said that the empire state building was disadvantaged due to location and was a less successful construction. However, when you consider the buildings entire lifespan,
it can be said that it has been extremely successful after the early period of non-profitability. Since the 1950’s and the subsequent decades leading up to the present day the building has been hugely profitable and financially sound, with over 1000 businesses renting suites and over 21,000 users using the facilities as employees of said businesses. This doesn’t include the profit gained from its huge tourism appeal, with over 3 million people visiting the famous skyscraper every year including as well as royal and famous appearances including Queen Elizabeth and Fidel Castro.
Summarising this iconic building as a success or failure is extremely difficult as there are many factors that directly affect a decision. In its early years, the building was largely unsuccessful due to its poor location and the worst economic climate in human history. Since this period however, it has been a success with all its suites rented out and huge tourism numbers each year. I believe that the initial owners of the building, the directors of general motors, built the building for the wrong reasons.