Inside the Empire State’s 21st Century Upgrade
Video powered by Otis and narrated by Fred Mills. This article and video contain paid promotion for Otis.
IT'S one of the world’s most famous buildings.
Constructed during the onset of the Great Depression, the Empire State Building became a symbol of American innovation and a marker of what the United States could achieve, even during its darkest times.
Standing as the world’s tallest building for 40 years of its life, the grandeur and scale of the Empire State inspired near-universal awe and cemented it as the defining structure of New York City.
Now, as the structure approaches its 90th birthday, a ten-year modernisation programme has revamped the groundbreaking Otis elevator system that enabled the original construction of the building, improved energy efficiency and brought this iconic 1930s skyscraper into the 21st century.
Above: The Empire State Building has just completed a 10-year modernisation program.
The early 20th century was a time of great innovation and change across the United States - and advancements in building materials combined with a booming economy and growing population gave rise to the skyscraper.
First appearing in Chicago and then across the US, perhaps no American city saw a greater transformation than New York.
Taking the title of “world’s tallest building” from itself no less than six times between 1909 and 1931, New York City’s race for the skies captivated onlookers as taller and taller skyscrapers began to dominate the skyline.
But the crash of 1929 brought this boom to an end and the demand for tall buildings evaporated overnight.
Above: Built at the onset of the Great Depression, the Empire State Building took just 14 months to complete.
With two years of planning behind them, developers at the Empire State decided to proceed with their project, fearing the even greater losses that would come with cancellation.
Starting in 1930 and completing in just 14 months, the skyscraper set new records; becoming the tallest structure ever built, the first building to surpass 100 storeys and housing the world's fastest elevators of the day; an innovative installation by Otis that made the building’s immense height viable.
Though it’s since been eclipsed by dozens of taller structures, the Empire State’s form and observation decks, along with countless appearances across popular culture, have retained its status as one of the world’s most famous buildings.
Today, 90 years after its arrival on the skyline, the Empire State Building is a global leader in sustainability and energy efficiency.
After a decade-long project to upgrade, the building has improved efficiency, retrofitted interiors and overhauled the Observatory Experience.
Each of the building’s 6,514 windows have been retrofitted with high-performance glass and a new lighting system that adapts to the levels of natural light entering the floor-plate has been installed.
Above: Despite being 90-years-old, the Empire State Building is now one of the most energy-efficient skyscrapers in the United States (image courtesy of Max Touhey).
The heating system has been fitted with reflective barriers to reduce heat loss and lower the building’s carbon footprint while a multi-year elevator upgrade - undertaken by the original system installers Otis - will move passengers 50% faster during peak times than the original system, while returning energy to the building’s grid through its regenerative drives.
While many of these upgrades will be systematic and make the Empire State one of the most historic skyscrapers to achieve a LEED Gold certification, the most noticeable transformations for visitors will be found throughout the Observatory Experience.
The Empire State Building has remained one of New York’s most popular attractions with over four million annual visitors and the new upgrades help it retain that position.
Greeted by a new entrance lobby, visitors will now make their way through an interactive museum to the first viewing level on the 80th Floor. This level gives visitors their first glance of the views they’ll have on the famous 86th Floor Observatory.
Above: The observation experience has been upgraded for visitors to enjoy (image courtesy of Otis Elevator Company).
From there, a custom-built glass elevator by Otis takes visitors to the renovated 102nd-Floor, giving them a never-before-seen look at the inside of the building’s mast on the way.
Seeking to make the 16-storey ride an experience in itself, Otis used its innovative Gen2 elevator system, eliminating the need for a lift motor room and other mechanical equipment within the confined space of the mast structure and giving visitors unobstructed views as they travel.
Using less energy than roped systems and improving passenger comfort with a steel-reinforced polyurethane belt that cuts noise and vibration, the Gen2’s small footprint makes it an ideal choice for the confined spaces within unique structures.
The Gen2 system removed the need for a basement motor room at Seoul’s 555-metre Lotte World Tower, transports guests at the Armani Hotel and penthouses inside the Burj Khalifa – the world’s current tallest building - and even takes visitors to the base of Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer statue - another iconic landmark that was completed in the same year as the Empire State Building.
Above: Without the need for a motor room, Otis was able to install a glass elevator within the confined space of the Empire State Building's mast.
In fact, as maximising space has become a common goal in buildings around the world, the Gen2 system has become the most popular elevator in Otis’ history, despite only coming to the market in 2000. To date, more than a million units have been sold.
From its base to its summit, the Empire State Building has undergone one of the largest modernisation programs of any skyscraper to date; setting new benchmarks for energy efficiency while retaining the historic style that has made it one of the world’s most famous buildings.
While the word “iconic” may perhaps be overused these days, the Empire State Building is truly deserving of the adjective; a timeless symbol of New York City that can now endure long into the future.
Learn more about the Otis Gen 2 System here.
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