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Empire State Building


The 385m Empire State Building in New York's Manhattan area was the world's tallest building from 1931 to 1971. Despite being overtaken in height by buildings such as the World Trade Centre, it remains one of the most renowned skyscrapers in the world. It

has been immortalised on film more than once, notably in King Kong where the monster straddles the tower to fight a swarm of light aircraft.

The 1920s and early 1930s were a boom time for skyscraper construction but the Empire State stands out for its incredible rate of construction. The whole building was put up less than 11 months after the first steel columns were erected on 7 April 1930.

At the busiest times up to 3,500 people worked on its construction to enable the steel frame to rise by more than one floor a day.

The Empire State also held the record for being the tallest skyscraper with the most rentable space. The main structure has 85 storeys but the mast at the top increased the height of the building to the equivalent of more than 102 floors.

Its nearest rival at the time was the 325m Chrysler Building, also in New York.

The building opened just 20 months after the first design contract was signed. This was made possible by a conscious effort to involve the architects, owners, builders and structural and mechanical engineers in the entire planning and design process.

This early example of effective partnering ensured all parties knew exactly what they should be doing and avoided costly delays.

A detailed set of notes made during the construction period by a member of the Starrett Brothers and Eken construction team was discovered ten years ago. The recently published notes revealed the contractor's strict and well planned operations which enabled the tight construction programme to be met.

Many innovative construction methods were used. For example, to erect the limestone cladding the contractor decided not to use the traditional derrick arrangement. Instead, trucks delivered the stone in crates which were lifted by a small crane operating from a monorail on the ceiling of each floor.

But the single factor contributing most to the speed of construction was the project management. Strict organisation, fast-tracking and modern construction management became the standard for future large-scale projects. Visitors from all over the world came to see the work progress, as they could see the building grow before their eyes.

Building the Empire State, published by WW Norton, 10 Coptic Street, London WC1.

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