The Empire State Building: From Office Building to Pop Culture Icon

It is a big part of pop culture thanks to its many depictions in movies and today we are going to look at what makes this enormous building so special.

Few pieces of Architecture have become symbols of the city they reside in; buildings that became part of pop culture, inspiring greats and mundane alike. One such building of this stature is the Empire State Building. 

As the population grew and space to construct new buildings became sparse, there was only one way to go- up. The economic boom of the 1920s fostered fierce competition between corporations based in New York for the bragging rights to the tallest building- in not just the city but also the world. Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, an architectural firm based out of New York, decided to test the limits of modern architecture and to dethrone the then-tallest building, the Chrysler Building, standing at 1005 ft. 

The project on 34th street in Manhattan began in troubled times. Despite the world experiencing arguably the worst financial crises ever, Empire State Inc. soldiered on with construction, fearful of devastating losses if they stopped development. 41 million dollars of their money, equalling 595 million dollars today adjusted for inflation, resulted in the 1250 ft, 102-story skyscraper. A chaotic and rather unsafe work environment hosted 3500 workers who constructed the colossus in just 410 days, glimpses of which are found in the iconic frames of Lewis Hine. 

Such a building of this size came with its own set of problems. The challenge of providing water, power, and ventilation to all floors made the architects dedicate the center of the buildings to utilities alone. This space houses 73 elevators, permitting navigation to all corners of the building.

Although construction finished in 1931, Empire State Inc. would not make profits until the 1950s, with the Great Depression and its ill effects leaving three-quarters of the office spaces in the building empty long after its opening. However, the group would continue to invest in improving the building, a practice that follows to date, with adaptations made to the building to suit changing times.

An antenna was added in the ‘50s, topping the building at a staggering 1454 ft. The building has two state-of-the-art observation decks now- on the 86th and 102nd floors. An upgraded air condition system, “super windows” to minimize heat exchange, low-flow bathroom fixtures, and green cleaning supplies would bring the building into the 21st century.

The skyscraper, originally intended as an office building, now brings 4 million visitors annually, generating 43 million dollars every year. Its significance, however, remains priceless, as is its iconic design and cultural relevance.