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Insights into the ideas and innovations that are transforming project planning and delivery

Empire State Building Stands as an Icon of Construction Innovation

New York City will soon play host to Oracle Industry Connect 2018, drawing hundreds of Oracle Construction and Engineering customers, thought leaders and visionaries to the city to share knowledge in a collective spirit of innovation, inspiration, and business transformation.  New York City is a fantastic conference locale for many reasons, not least of which is the importance of construction to the city’s economy and its identity. Home to numerous acclaimed structures and other achievements of architecture and urban planning, the city’s skyline is shaped by an impressive array of iconic buildings. Among these, perhaps none is as famous as the Empire State Building. But less well known is the story of this New York landmark’s construction – and the remarkable creativity, innovation, and collaboration that made it possible.

A Monument to Innovation

The Empire State Building, with its familiar Art Deco design, still dominates the New York City skyline more than 86 years after its completion. In addition to its place in history as one of the world’s tallest structures, it is renowned for its premier Midtown location, panoramic views, and role as the backdrop for countless films. 

A deeper look at the building’s story reveals some fascinating insights into construction and engineering innovation ‒ sparked both by rivalry between two automotive titans and a series of formidable logistical and engineering challenges. The result is an enduring architectural treasure and testament to the power of determination, creativity, and collaboration.

Let’s start with the rivalry. Jakob Raskob, a former vice president of General Motors, decided to go head to head with Walter Chrysler in his quest to build the world’s largest building. Time was of the essence as the Chrysler Building was already in the works.

William F. Lamb, chosen to lead the Empire State Building design team, worked at breakneck speed, completing preliminary drawings for the 102-story building in just two weeks. To help ensure the stability and usability of the massive structure, he offered an innovative design that placed critical components, such as plumbing, mail chutes, and elevators, at the building’s core.

The Empire State’s water delivery system – which includes more than 70 miles of pipe – is especially noteworthy and remains virtually unchanged today. The landmark’s water tanks are housed in the core of the building instead of on the roof, like most tall buildings in the city.

The team also broke new ground when it came to fire protection and building strength by encasing the building’s steel frame and components in concrete. Iron oxide and linseed oil paint coated the steel frame components when they were manufactured. Builders on site then covered the frame with asphalt to prevent erosion when coated with the concrete layer.

The Empire State Building also pioneered a form of just-in-time material delivery. The site was very compact and did not allow for storage of construction materials – which included over 10 million bricks. Therefore, everything that was delivered had to be used that day. To expedite construction, engineers created a railway system to move materials efficiently and rapidly around the site.

The speed of the building’s construction is enviable even by today’s modern engineering and building standards. The Empire State Building was completed in 410 days – three months ahead of schedule – and at a pace of 4.5 stories a week.

The transport system was essential to the building’s rapid construction. So, too, was the role of collaboration.  Architectural historian Carol Willis cites a “team-design approach that involved the collaboration of the architects, owners, builders, and engineers in planning and problem-solving, and the organizational genius of the general contractors,” as critical factors in the project’s success. This approach has proven to be as lasting the iconic building itself.

Innovation continues to be the engine powering the evolution of project delivery – and today's innovations will take center stage during Oracle Industry Connect in April 2018. We invite you to join us at this event, where Oracle Construction and Engineering, our customers and other thought leaders will together explore the ideas, emerging technologies and cutting-edge approaches that are shaping the future of projects. For more information and to register, visit us here.

Read insights from the Oracle Industry Connect 2018 report here.

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