The building of the Empire State Building (Part 1 of 2)

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April 28, 2010

LEGENDS – The Building of the Empire State Building- Part 1, Part 2

NEW YORK, April 28, 2010/ Troy Media/ – The 381-metre high 102-storey Empire State Building, located at 350 Fifth Avenue in the heart of New York City, ranks among the world’s most beautiful buildings.

When it was completed a writer at the time said it was only usurped by the Eiffel Tower. It held the title of the world’s tallest building from 1931 to 1973 when it was supplanted by the Sears Tower in Chicago and the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan.

When it opened, it was promoted as the eighth wonder of the world. In 1955, the American Society of Civil Engineers selected it as one of the seven greatest engineering achievements in the history of the US.

The Empire State Building achieved celebrity status when the 1933 film King Kong starring Alberta-navtive Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong became a cult classic. How can anyone forget the classic scene of the giant ape perched on the Empire State Building holding a screaming Wray, while double-winger fighter planes riddled its body with machinegun bullets?

The New Deal building boom

The 1930s witnessed major construction projects throughout the United States. Along with the Empire State Building, New York City boasted the Triborough Bridge, Lincoln Tunnel and LaGuardia Airport. In the South, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s dams brought electricity and flood control to the valley. In the West, there was the Shasta Dam in California and the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. And there were also landmark bridges, notably the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

All of the great projects were the vision of President Herbert Hoover, who firmly believed that the US ought to have a reservoir of big projects on the drawing board that could be started at the appropriate time. US News & World Report included Hoover, the 31st president, among the 10 worst presidents of the country. Although he’s credited with the skills of a technocrat and manager, his worst policy call was supporting an international trade tariff that made the Depression even worse.  Despite his blunders, Hoover’s “New Deal” projects ultimately helped restore the US to an industrial leader.

Architectural design and project management

Aside from being one of many historic projects executed at the time, the Empire State Building stands as a textbook example of brilliant project management. In most of the historic chronicles of the time, the construction engineers’ innovative project management is overlooked.  Historians may have bypassed it because they made the assumption that it was only of interest to construction engineers and project managers. They never considered that project management involves a host of disciplines and skills, uppermost engineering, technology, architectural design and math, among others. The contractor’s approach to the building of the Empire State Building revolutionized the way tall buildings are project managed.

Most amazing was the speed of construction. The 58,000-ton building was completed in 410 days. According to historic accounts of the project, the rate of ascent has never been met in post-Empire State Building construction. Equally phenomenal, the project came in under-budget. Instead of the projected $50 million, it cost less than half that.

Architectural design and specifications

In keeping with the tempo and feeling of the times, the building was to resemble a pencil; it was to be lean, bold, confidant and Spartan. There were to be no architectural excesses, which characterized the flamboyant Art Deco designs of the 1920s. The design was Egypto-Aztec tiered pyramidical and there was going to be no unnecessary ornaments — no caryatids, buttresses or oversized stoned heads.  Above everything else, the building was to have a functional look and feel to it. The tower’s four facades were to be centrally indented with vertical setbacks. According to the original architectural drawings, the building’s peak was designed as a mooring mast for dirigibles. But when the World Trade Center’s communication mast was put up and operating, the Empire State Building’s mast that peaked at 1,454-feet was obsolete. And the dirigible mooring mast was aborted after several unsuccessful attempts to moor the monster balloons.

Here are a few facts and numbers about the Empire State Building project:

Building height: 1,250 feet to 102nd floor observatory
Site area: 83,860 square feet
Building volume: 37 million cubic feet
Bricks: 10 million
Elevator rails:  27 miles length
Windows: 6,400
Facing: The tower was  faced with  Indiana limestone and granite, and rose famosa and Estrallante marble, all outlined with aluminum and stainless steel
Cost: Including land, $40,948,900; building alone, $24,718,000.

The super-star builders

The general contractors for the building’s construction were the Starrett Brothers and Eken.  The company had a well-deserved reputation as the “Skyline Builders” of the 1920s.  The contractors saw the project as an opportunity for both speed and savings. Because the US was in the throes of a depression, materials and labor were cheap. The Starrett Brothers planned the project down to the minutest details, not wasting a penny, prudently using both materials and manpower.

Special Report: LEGENDS – The Building of the Empire State Building- Part 1, Part 2

© Troy Media. To purchase this series, contact syndication@troymedia.com

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