Sunday, November 28, 2010

10/11 Academic Decathlon The Great Depression Art Selection #10 - Empire State Building

The Empire State Building, New York City, NY, 1931

The Empire State Building was created by the architectural firm of Shreve, Lamb and Harmon. They founded their firm in 1929 in New York. In spite of the Depression, commissions for skyscrapers were still flowing in and they were in demand; they had made a name for themselves developing Manhattan office buildings and designing the 10-story Reynolds Building in North Carolina. The Empire State Building's creation came to symbolize not only the city but the era.

Tallest buildings in the world

1,239 feet from the street (the pinnacle adds 203 feet), the Empire State Building dominates the Manhattan skyline. At one time it was named the Eighth Wonder of the World because it was so tall. It is the tallest building in New York City, and at the time it was built was the tallest building in the world. But man's desire to keep building higher and higher (ever read any history about Gothic Cathedrals?) was stronger and it lost that status. Currently, at 2717 ft tall, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates is the tallest building in the world.

As other skyscrapers of the time, it is supported by a steel frame with the exterior facade comprised of equal parts of stone and glass. The stone is a light gray Indiana limestone and granite with vertically oriented windows running the length of the building creating a vertical effect. The surface is broken with setbacks , kind of like smaller blocks are stacked one on top of another. This provides a slimming effect of the building as it rises higher and higher and cuts down on the visual weight of the structure. More light can move around it, keeping the building looking lighter as well as more light getting to the other buildings.

Unbelievably, the building was built in one year, forty-five days with the labor of lots and lots of men (up to 3,000 working at a given time, many of whom were immigrants). As was customary during this time, there was a photographer, Lewis Hine, that was present to document the process. He played two roles: document the work in progress and help shape public perception. Though immigrants had a back seat role in society at the time, Hines highlighted their participation in the building of this great structure.

For its inauguration, President Herbert Hoover pressed a button from the White House and hundreds of miles away, and the Empire State Building lit up. It was a strong symbol of the future and despite the financial crisis, proved that great things were still possible. It was a big building to fill, and for some time people called it "The Empty State Building", but by the late 1940s it became profitable. People now, as when it first opened, would ride to the observation deck and look out over New York, the city that never sleeps.

Portrait of Lewis Hine


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