The Empire State Building – 5 Facts

On May 1st 2021, the Empire State Building celebrated its 90th birthday. Over the last nine decades, the architectural icon of New York City was originally intended to serve as a mooring mast for zeppelins from Europe and has experienced elevator falls from over 70 storeys and an aeroplane collision. Here we have summarised five exciting facts about the Empire State Building for you.

As the US economy soared from one record to the next during the golden twenties, a race began in New York to build the tallest building in the world. The planners of the Empire State Building and the nearby Chrysler Building, also designed in the Art Deco style, repeatedly corrected their sketches in one direction: upwards.

The final pencil stroke in the race was drawn by the architects of the firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon. With 102 floors and a roof height of 381 metres, the Empire State Building replaced the Chrysler Building as the tallest building in the world after only eleven months and would eventually hold this title for the next 40 years.

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Now the Empire State Building celebrated its 90th birthday on 1 May 2021. We say: congratulations! Countless stories have unfolded around the world’s most famous skyscraper since the groundbreaking ceremony. We present five particularly interesting ones here.

Sky Exposure Plane determines design language

The building is constructed as a riveted steel frame structure with inset façade elements made of over 5 000 cubic metres of granite and Indiana limestone, which gives it its colour. Its shape with the characteristic recesses was determined not least by the New York “Zoning Law”. According to a building regulation known as the “Sky Exposure Plane”, buildings may not exceed an imaginary boundary that slopes from a certain height in order to prevent excessive shading of neighbouring buildings and streets. In other words, as the height increases, the cross-section of a building in New York must taper.

Completed faster and cheaper than planned

With an average construction pace of four and a half storeys per week, the Empire State Building took only one year and 45 days to complete, which is shorter than planned. But not only that: the builders were probably also pleased that the construction costs came in under budget. The sad reason for this, however, was the Great Depression that began at the end of 1929. That caused labour costs to plummet. The construction costs of just under 41 million dollars at the time would be equivalent to over half a billion dollars today.

1945: A bomber flies into the Empire State Building

It was a foggy Saturday morning when Colonel William Smith piloted his B-25 into the north side of the 79th floor on 28 July 1945. His actual destination: Newark Airport in the neighbouring state of New Jersey. Modern instrument flight technology was not available at the time. When the pilot reduced his altitude to escape the fog, he found himself in the middle of Manhattan. He managed to fly around several skyscrapers, but then his plane hit the Empire State Building. It tore a burning hole seven metres in diameter into the façade. Fourteen people, including the crew of three, were killed.

Betty Lou Oliver, a young lift operator, plunged 75 floors in an elevator when parts of the bomber’s engine penetrated the lift shafts, severing the lift cables. Presumably slowed by the several hundred feet of cables already in the shaft and the cushion of air formed by the fall, Oliver survived despite serious injuries.

The skyscraper as a landing pad for zeppelins

Convinced that transatlantic zeppelin flights would become the travel concept of the future, the top of the building was to be an anchor mast for the airships, over which passengers from overseas could disembark with the help of an open-air gangway virtually in the middle of New York. In fact, it turned out that manoeuvring the zeppelins was too dangerous because of the turbulent upwinds over Manhattan. The project was abandoned before a human being ever got out over the mast.

The Empire State Building should become a green example of sustainability

In 2009, the Empire State Building’s operating company decided on green renovation and refurbishment measures worth 550 million dollars. The measures included, for example, the thermal upgrading of the building’s more than 6,500 windows. Also, powering the building with electricity from 100 per cent wind power, more efficient air-conditioning systems, Sonsorik to monitor and control the indoor climate, and lighting controls influenced by ambient light. 40 per cent of the building’s carbon emissions have been saved in this way over the last ten years. The cost of the measures had even paid off after only five years. Learn more about the rebuilding project here.

Are you interested in other stories from the Big Apple? In 2017, the Berlin designers from J. Mayer H Architects developed the simple but clever “XXX Times Square with Love” sculptures for Times Square in New York.