The Empire State ReBuilding
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 building's more than $550 million renovation and 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 Empire State Building Company, 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 Guided by historical documents, photos, original design sketches, blueprints, and forensic analysis of existing architectural elements, the team of experts worked for nearly two years to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 flourescent 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.
Visitor Reception Desk: In the 34th Street lobby corridor, a new Visitor Reception Desk (VRD) was installed for tenants' visitors to the building. Behind its marble desk, the VRD showcases a world-class glass artwork installation, featuring a multi-panel, illuminated glass wall mural.
Marble Restoration: The original masons used exquisite 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. After careful consideration, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved installation of the originally intended chandeliers, which were fabricated by Rambusch Studios from original drawings.
Anemometer Installation: On the iconic 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.
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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 in which it was conceived.
Featuring 23-karat gold and aluminum, the then precious metal of the future, applied to canvas, 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 an 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 an acrylic-panel dropped ceiling, and flourescent light fixtures were installed to modernize the building's aesthetic. As part of the Empire State Building's more than $550 million capital improvements program commenced in 2007, a team of artists and historians led by Empire State Building Company and including world-renowned Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners and EverGreene Architectural Arts worked collaboratively to recreate the original 1930s ceiling which had been lost to the "modernization" program in the 1960s.
The restoration team was guided by the historic photographs, on-site forensic analysis, original plans, existing architectural elements and even decades-old dirt patterns attracted electronically to the metals under the paint which had covered 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 installation is accented by the installation of state-of-the-art lighting to recreate the original lighting intensity of the lobby. The full replication, including research, design, execution and installation took approximately two years to complete at EverGreene's New York studio 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.
Historic Lobby Restoration
Watch this video on the award-winning restoration of the Empire State Building's world famous lobby.
ESB After Dark
Join us every Thursday through Saturday from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. for city views and a live saxophonist on the 86th Floor Observatory.
Whether you are going to the top for the first time or if you've made the trip before, we want to make your visit as easy as possible.
Empire: The Store features upscale gifts, ESB-branded apparel, crystal glassware, toys and more.