The twentieth century started with man’s attempt to make unmatched engineering wonders that were record-breaking as well as awe-inspiring. Architects and engineers strived to create buildings, bridges and dams.

The Empire State Building on 350 Fifth Avenue in New York City is one such building that was the tallest building at the time of its opening on May 1, 1931, and it remained so for 41 years until the North Tower of World Trade Centre was completed in 1972.

The Empire State Building is as iconic as the Statue of Liberty and one of America’s most recognised, photographed and visited landmarks. Its height to the top of the lightning rod (which was later added) is 1453 feet, and it cost $40,948,900 to build by 3,400 workers in just one year and 45 days. Among the many interesting facts about the construction of this mega structure is that its final cost was less than its expected cost of $50 million! This was largely because it was built during the Great Depression when labour was cheap and largely comprised immigrant workers.

Tall structures had started cropping up all over America since the 130-foot, 7.5 storey Equitable Life Assurance Building in New York City in 1870, that was followed by taller structures such as the 138-foot (10-storey) Home Insurance Building, constructed in Chicago in 1885, the 700 feet, 50-storey Metropolitan Life Tower (1909), and the 927-foot (72-storey) 40 Wall Street (1929).

Then automobile tycoon Walter Chrysler started the construction of a new building in 1928 that was rumoured to be taller than any existing structure. But its height was kept secret. When completed in May 1930, the Chrysler Building stood at 1,050 feet — the first man-made structure to stand taller than 1,000 feet.

Jakob Raskob, the vice-president of General Motors, decided he had to build a higher building and started planning even before Chrysler’s building was completed. Chrysler’s building’s final height was still a well-guarded secret when excavation started on the Empire State Building site on January 22, 1930.

There is a very interesting story about how the design of the building was conceived — Raskob is said to have held a pencil in his hands and asked the architect Willam Lamb, “Bill, how high can you make it so that it won't fall down?"

The 102-storey steel frame art deco skyscraper was designed from the top down. The Empire State Building was constructed on the site of a very popular hotel in Manhattan, the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, which was shifted to a new and bigger premises. The hotel was torn down, its debris dumped into the Atlantic Ocean and construction started on March 17.

A steel skeleton was built and 210 steel columns made up the vertical frame, 12 of these ran up the entire height of the building.

When it opened on May 1, 1931, it stood at 1250 feet at its 103rd floor, till 1950 when a 222 feet television antenna was added on top, increasing the height to 1472 feet. There are 85 stories of commercial and office space, making up a total of 2,158000 square feet, with the 86th floor having indoor and outdoor observation decks, and the remaining 16 floors comprising an art deco tower, with an observatory again at the 102nd floor. On top of this is the 203 feet pinnacle, comprising mainly broadcast antennae and a lightning rod at the very top. It has 6,500 windows and 73 elevators, and there are 1,860 steps from street level to the 103rd floor.

The building houses around 1,000 businesses and about 21,000 employees work there, making it the second-largest single office complex in America after the Pentagon.

However, during the initial years much of Empire State Building remained empty because it opened at the time of the Great Depression when businesses were going through a very tough time and it took years, for the building to become profitable. However, it was a tourist attraction from the very beginning and people came there in droves to experience the view of New York from its observatories.

The Empire State Building and its street floor interiors are designated landmarks of the New York City, and was also designated as a National Historic Landmark, besides being one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.

Updated Feb 23, 2013 02:09am

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