Empire State Building - The Symbol of NYC
Empire State Building - The Symbol of NYC

We all are familiar with the building that the great King Kong climbed on. But that isn’t the only element about this structure that is well-known in popular culture. It is also the American Cultural Icon; The Symbol of New York City and one of the 7 Wonders of the World. Yes, it is the one and only Empire State Building. Once stood as the tallest building in the world, the Empire State Building is a 102 story skyscraper located in Midtown Manhattan, New York City.

Empire State Building, NYC
Source: Wikipedia

Designed by the architectural firm Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon Associates, the construction of the building started in 1930 and finished in 1931. The name is derived from ‘Empire State’ because it is the nickname for the state of New York.

Also read another article – Groundscrapers: The long building architecture


The site of the building is in Midtown South on the West side of 5th Avenue between West 33rd and 34th Streets. Firstly, John Jacob Astor belonging to the prominent Astor Family previously owned the current site since the 1920s. Secondly, in 1983, John Jacob Astor Sr.’s grandson William Waldorf Astor opened the Waldorf Hotel on the site. Thirdly, with the death of the hotel’s founding proprietor George Boldt in 1918, Thomas Coleman du Pont purchased the hotel lease. Finally, the hotel closed down in 1929 because the Astor family sold the hotel to the Bethlehem Engineering Company for about $16 million dollars.

Waldorf Astoria Hotel in 1906 (Left) Waldorf Astoria Hotel in 1928 (Right)
Source: Wikipedia (Left) esbnyc.com (Right)

Planning Process and Design Changes

The Bethlehem Engineering Company originally planned a 25 story office building. But because of additional funding issues, the President of the company, Floyd De. L. Brown resold the site land to Empire State Inc. The structure was originally intended to be 50 stories tall, but was later increased to 60 floors and eventually 80 stories.

The primary duo responsible for the construction were John S. Raskob (self-made business mogul) and Alfred Smith (former Democratic Governor of New York). Raskob acted as the financer, recruiting other investors and Smith acted as the public figure heading the project. Initially, Al Smith planned to have an 80 story building that was supposed to be taller than any other building in the world. But with the 1916 Zoning Act, the architect Lamb designed the structure to incorporate setbacks resulting in the lower floors becoming larger than the upper floors. This means the building design looked like a pencil-like shape from the top-down direction. There were also height restrictions made mandatory for the nearby new buildings so that the top 50 floors would get the surrounding unobstructed views of the city.

Construction Stages Source: Daniel Ahmad/Wikimedia Common

Whose is the Tallest Skyscraper?

In the late 1920s, there was also a mad dash to erect the world’s largest skyscraper, and the Empire State building was no exception to the same. Within the sea of skyscrapers in Manhattan, it felt like there was a race to reach as high as possible into the sky. And the race to the top was also evident between the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.

In November 1929, Smith introduced and proposed an observation deck on the 86th floor’s roof at the height of 1050 ft. (320 m), which stood higher than the Chryslers building’s 71st-floor observation deck. The next month, the plans of the building were revised to include a 16 story, 200 ft. (61 m) metal crown and an additional mooring mast which made the height 222 ft. (68 m). The height of the building became 1250 ft. (380 m). Finally, with the 102 story observatory, the total height of the building became 1454 ft. (443.2 m).

Until the World Trade Center was erected in 1970, the Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world in 1931. However, following the collapse of the World Trade Center in 2001, the Empire State Building stood the tallest in the city until 2012.

Source: esbnyc.com

Before the structure was built, the design was altered around 16 times. The construction also finished in a record time of just 20 months right from the start to finish.  The architects modeled the design after the 2 buildings, Winston-Salem North Carolina’s Reynold’s Building and Carew Tower in Cincinnati. William Lamb designed these 2 buildings himself.

Also read the related article – Cargotecture: The Architecture of Shipping containers

Architecture and Design Style

Design Form

Roughly between 1920 and 1939, the Art Deco style was also very influential. It was also called the Modernist style as it focused on elements unique to the 20th century over stylistic traditions of the past. The use of modern materials like steel for structure and glass as façade glazing was at its peak. Art Deco incorporates elements from architectural traditions from around the world into an original style.

Because of the setbacks in the floors, the building has symmetrical massing in its form. The setbacks are on the 21st, 25th, 30th, 72th, 81st, and 85th floors. As mentioned earlier, the setbacks were designed because of the 1916 Zoning Regulation, to allow in the sunlight and also for the sunlight to reach the streets.

86th Floor Observatory Interior (Left) and Exterior (Right)
Source: Wikipedia


The inspiration behind the façade detail is clearly from the pre-World War II architecture in New York. The façade is also clad in Indian limestone panels which gives the building its signature blonde color. Above the main entrance of the building is a transom. The triple-height transom window has geometric patterns. There is the golden letters ‘EMPIRE STATE’ placed over the 5th-floor windows.

Main Entrance Façade (Left) and the Building in 1956 (Right)
Source: Wikipedia (left) and esbnyc.com (Right)

Above the 102nd floor where the mast is erected, there are four rectangular tiers topped by a conical shaft with a conical pinnacle.

102nd Floor Antenna
Source: Wikipedia

Being in the most prime area of the city, there are other famous landmarks near and around the building. Koreatown on 32nd Street between Madison and 6th Avenues; Penn Station and Madison Square Garden on 7th Avenue and 32nd and 34th Streets; Flower District on 28th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues; and finally to the East, there is Murray Hill, which is a mixed neighborhood of residential, commercial and entertainment activities.

As of 2020, The Empire State Building is the 7th tallest building in New York City; the 9th tallest skyscraper in the United States; the 6th tallest free-standing structure in the Americas; and 49th tallest building in the world. The building is so tall that it even received its own zip code in 1980.

Earlier Years and Reception

When the construction started in March of 1930, the stock market had crashed in October 1929. This is when the Great Depression took hold. This effect lasted until the opening of the building in 1931 because many of the office spaces remained unrented. This created a loss because it took almost 20 years for the Empire State Building to start becoming profitable.

Source: esbnyc.com


The Empire State Building defines the skyline of New York City with its soaring height and signature color and design. Although it had its initial tough years, the building has bounced back successfully on its revenue generation. It is also known for its environmental architecture projects. Most importantly, with the retrofitting lasting for nearly 10 years, it significantly reduced emissions and energy usage by about 40%. Thus, this increased the building’s efficiency.

Panoramic Skyline View of New York City
Source: Wikipedia

Just like a person awarded with a number of accolades, the Empire State Building similarly, has been ranked and appreciated by the American Institute of Architect’s list of America’s Favourite Architecture as the 1st building in 2007. It is also a designated City Landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1980. It is the National Register of Historic Places as National Historic Landmark in 1986. Even now, the structure appears in popular culture on several occasions, such as in movies. This just proves that the Empire State Building will always stay truly a timeless image of not only New York City but also the United States of America.

Also read another article – Re-Coding Smart Building in Damascus, Syria by Reparametrize Studio


Andrews, E. (2018, August 22). 10 Surprising Facts About the Empire State Building. Retrieved from History.com: https://www.history.com/news/10-surprising-facts-about-the-empire-state-building

Empire State Building. (n.d.). Retrieved from esbnyc.com: https://www.esbnyc.com/

Empire State Building. (2021, May 23). Retrieved from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire_State_Building#mw-head

Empire State Building. (2021, June 6). Retrieved from Architectural.co6D: http://architectuul.com/architecture/empire-state-building

Fiederer, L. (2018, October 19). AD Classics: Empire State Building / Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon. Retrieved from ArchDaily.com: https://www.archdaily.com/797767/ad-classics-empire-state-building-shreve-lamb-harmon

Muscato, h. (2016, July 10). Empire State Building Architecture Style. Retrieved from Study.com: https://study.com/academy/lesson/empire-state-building-architecture-style.html

Yousuf, I. (2020, September 8). Empire State Building. Retrieved from Britannica.com: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Empire-State-Building

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