ReBuilding

ReBuilding the Empire State Building

The Empire State Building lobby is one of the few interiors in New York to be designated a historic landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. As part of the Empire State ReBuilding modernization initiative, the ESB lobby has been recreated to the original architects' Art Deco design intent, while introducing a contemporary visitor processing system and employing state-of-the-art technology.

Led by ownership, the restoration team included Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners LLP (BBB), Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), historians, artists, and specialty craftsmen. Guided by historical documents, photos, original design sketches, blueprints, and forensic analysis of existing architectural elements, the team of experts worked for nearly two years to restore the aesthetic of the original 1930 design.

Recapturing Lost Features

Over the years, key design elements were obscured and lost. In the 1960s, an acrylic-panel dropped ceiling was installed, covering an ornate ceiling mural and introducing fluorescent lighting to the lobby. Glasswork, such as intricate cast glass fixture lenses that lined elevator banks and side corridors, were replaced over time with acrylic inlays. JLL discovered photographs and descriptions of original panels at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, which served as a guide for highly-skilled artisans used to recreate over 12,000 linear feet of the historic glasswork.

Original Lighting Design With Contemporary Technology

Through the extensive research, the BBB team identified original ESB lighting concepts to match that intent with modern lighting technology, featuring energy-efficient bulbs and ballasts that can be adjusted based on lighting needs and New York power grid demands. Additionally, ESB restored the original 1930s lighting levels, tuning the overall lighting scheme to its original intensity to bring out the colors in the lobby's stone walls and ceiling mural.

Marble Restoration 

The original masons used carefully-selected international marbles throughout the lobby to create a unique example of "bookmatching," in which slices of stone from the same block are arranged to mirror each other, highlighting the marble's natural veining for artistic purposes. Pieces of the building's original marble were removed or damaged over the past 78 years, so BBB searched the world and replaced lost material with new marble to match.

Art Deco Chandeliers

Original ESB lobby blueprints showed plans for two ornate chandeliers to be installed one each over the second floor pedestrian bridges along the 33rd and 34th Street lobby corridors. BBB discovered that the original chandeliers were never created. Instead, two 1920s fixtures, which were since removed and destroyed, were hung in the later phases of the original construction.

Anemometer Installation

On the wall mural within the Fifth Avenue main lobby entrance, JLL coordinated the restoration of the anemometer that was later replaced by a clock to measure wind speed and direction from a weather station above the ESB's world-renowned 86th floor Observatory. Although the anemometer was part of the original 1930s design, its weather station will offer modern-day technology.

Art Deco Ceiling Mural

The Empire State Building's main lobby originally featured an ornate ceiling mural in a tribute to the opportunity and spirit of the Machine Age.

Featuring 23-karat gold and aluminum, the mural is an Art Deco representation of a celestial sky with sunbursts and stars that reflect light with a warm glow, drawing the eye upward to the ceiling. But in homage to the Machine Age, the sunbursts and stars are represented by gears.

The ceiling remained the focal point of the lobby until the 1960s, when it was painted over and covered with a dropped ceiling and flourescent light fixtures. As part of the Empire State Building's more than $550 million capital improvements program commenced in 2007, a team of artists and historians worked collaboratively to recreate the original 1930s ceiling.

The restoration team was guided by historic photographs, on-site forensic analysis, original plans, and even decades-old dirt patterns attracted electronically to the metals under the paint covering the mural.

A 26-step process was used to recreate the Art Deco mural using the same techniques as the original artists from Rambusch Studios. The full replication, including research, design, execution and installation took approximately two years to complete and was finally installed at the Empire State Building in 2009.

Ceiling Mural Facts

  • The materials used on the replicated ceiling are the same materials used to create the lobby ceiling in 1931.
  • The mural used over 15,000 square feet of canvas, and is a complex layout of over 75 pieces of canvas fitted together.
  • 115,000 sheets of aluminum leaf were used on the finished ceiling mural.
  • Over 20,000 man-hours have gone into the replication of the ESB ceiling.
  • The mural used 1,300 square feet of 23-karat gold leaf and 14,000 square feet of aluminum.
  • There are 16 layers of paint, glazes and leaf used in the ceiling mural.
  • The recreation process involved 26 steps from beginning to completion.
  • The recreation and installation of the new mural consumed nearly twice the time it took to construct the Empire State Building.