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The Chrysler Building in New York City
The Chrysler Building, one of the largest skyscrapers in the world, resides in New York City. It originated during a competitive climate in the 1920s, when the American economy flourished. In Manhattan, business continued to grow beyond the point of available space for office workers. This challenged architects to aim high in their design, which led to the development of the modern skyscraper.
In 1926, Walter P. Chrysler undertook the initiative to build the tallest building in New York City. As one of the wealthiest men in the automotive industry, Chrysler wanted an office building that would symbolize his status in the business world. Determined to make his dream a reality, Chrysler met with William Van Alen to design a remarkable 77-story building. William Van Alen, a Brooklyn-born architect, earned a reputation for his progressive and flamboyant design. He accepted Chrysler’s proposal and began to construct the first building to exceed a height of 1,000 feet. Chrysler’s undertaking caused an intense competition among other builders to construct the world’s largest skyscraper.
William Van Alen’s original design for the skyscraper featured a jewel-like glass crown. It also called for the base of the building to have showroom windows that tripled in height with glass-wrapped corners. This created an illusion that the tower floated in mid-air. In addition, the skyscraper was originally intended to be 806 feet. Van Alen’s distinctive design marked his signal contribution to the Art Deco style of architecture. Before he met Chrysler, Van Alen proposed this design to William H. Reynolds. After careful review, Reynolds disapproved of Van Alen’s original design. He felt that the plan was too advanced and costly. Walter P. Chrysler felt differently. Chrysler worked with Van Alen to redesign the plan to include additional stories. He wanted to turn this building into the Chrysler Corporation’s headquarters.
As a team, Chrysler and Van Alen commenced construction of the Chrysler Building on September 19th, 1928. Contractors, builders, engineers, and other building experts joined together to coordinate the building project. The construction team used roughly 400,000 rivets and about 3,826,000 bricks to create the walls of the tower. During the construction of the skyscraper, a rival increased the height of their building project to claim the title of the world’s tallest building. This prompted Van Alen to build a 125 foot spire inside the frame of the building. The construction team delivered the spire to the site in four different sections. The team hoisted the bottom section of the spire onto the building’s dome and then lowered it into the 66th floor. The remaining sections were hoisted and riveted in place in 90 minutes. The spire officially made the Chrysler Building the world’s tallest building at the time of its construction.
On May 20th, 1930, the Chrysler Building officially surpassed the height of any other building in the world. The Eiffel Tower remained as the tallest structure. The Chrysler Building was the first man-made structure to tower taller than one thousand feet. Van Alen’s triumph rang loud and clear. This lasted up until Chrysler refused to pay Van Alen in full for his work. According to Chrysler, Van Alen took bribes from contractors. These accusations in conjunction with the aftermath of the Great Depression tainted Van Alen’s reputation as a brilliant architect. Nearly one year later, the construction of the Empire State Building surpassed the height of the Chrysler Building. Despite this defeat, the Chrysler Building still remains the tallest brick building supported by steel in the world. On November 2nd, 2011, the construction of the One World Trade Center surpassed the height of the Chrysler Building.
The Chrysler Building has earned its spot in history as one of the most remarkable buildings ever constructed. In fact, the skyscraper has made several appearances in major motion pictures that feature New York as a central theme. The Chrysler Building has also appeared in many newspapers and magazines. In 2005, the Skyscraper Museum surveyed thousands of architects, contractors, engineers, critics, historians, and scholars about their ten favorite skyscrapers in New York. The majority voted the Chrysler Building as one of their top ten favorite buildings in the state. The Chrysler Building has inspired the design and construction of several other skyscrapers in the world, including One Liberty Place in Philadelphia.
Follow these links to learn more about the design and construction of the Chrysler Building:
- Wonders of the World Databank: Chrysler Building
- Building the Chrysler Building: Laying the Foundation
- The First Modern Skyscraper: New York and Chicago (PDF)
- All About the Chrysler Building
- The Chrysler Building, 1926-19320 (PDF)
Last modified: April 9, 2018