It’s the Top

The Empire State Building—a historic landmark retrofit for the future
December 03, 2015
Credit: Whitney Cox

In the December issue editorial of Architectural Record, editor-in-chief Cathleen McGuigan writes about the publication’s recent move into the Empire State Building and chronicles the icon’s history and transformation into a national model for the sustainable retrofitting of historic landmarks.

Architectural Record

December 1, 2015

By Cathleen McGuigan

“Iconic” may be the most overused word in architectural writing. Eye-popping new buildings are declared icons when the concrete has barely cured. But last month, ARCHITECTURAL RECORD and its sister publication Engineering News Record, under the new ownership of BNP Media, moved into a true icon: the Empire State Building. Just as thrilling as the views from our offices on the 60th floor is the knowledge that we are working in a monumental landmark with an enduring hold on the national imagination.

The Empire State Building is the public’s No. 1 favorite work of architecture, according to a survey by the AIA. Its status does not derive just from its height—it was the world’s tallest building for more than 40 years (far longer than today’s top tower, the Burj Khalifa, is going to hold the title) and now ranks 30th. And it doesn’t derive its status only from its form, though as the structure soars 1,454 feet to the top of its spire, with its subtly elegant setbacks, it remains the most arresting peak on the New York City skyline.

Its design was actually more pragmatic than visionary (can you guess the architect?), in order to maximize its real-estate value and minimize its construction time, says Carol Willis, founder, director, and curator of the Skyscraper Museum. “The architecture is streamlined, not so much in the sense of Art Deco design but as a machine-age celebration of efficiency,” she says…

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