New York’s Chrysler Building
Feverishly constructed during a race to raise “the tallest building in the world” – New York’s Chrysler Building, famous across the globe, managed to hold the title for almost the whole of 1930.
It remains the world’s largest brick building, boasting an Art Deco crown and spire to rival the fame of its eventual successor – the Empire State Building.
Chrysler’s masterpiece, however, is still considered by many architects to be New York’s most beautiful skyscraper, often referred to as one of the “finest buildings in the world”.
Design and Construction
Priced at a lofty $20 million and finalized to allow for 77 operative floors, it was a truly massive undertaking. The Chrysler Building’s construction utilized some 750-odd’ miles of electrical wiring (enough to bridge the gap between New York and Chicago). Close to 4,000,000 bricks were placed by hand atop 21 tons of structural steel framing.
The Chrysler Building was erected at record speed – an average of four floors per week – with no documented deaths during construction. The contracting company broke ground on September 19th, 1928, and hoisted the 125-foot spire on October 23rd of the following year.
The Race for the Sky
Ralph Squire & Sons, the engineering firm in charge of the project, was entered into what was to be known as the “Race for the Sky” – an intense financial and architectural competition to build the world’s tallest skyscraper.
The Chrysler Building was built as an ode to the tidal success of automobile mogul Walter Chrysler – and was assigned to house the Chrysler Corporation. Famed architect William Van Alen was responsible for the building’s design.
It was a player in an epic duel. Chrysler was battling the rival building project 40 Wall Street for the coveted title. And it was close – as 40 Wall Street’s designer H. Craig Severance increased his project by two feet just near the finish line, officially presenting 40 Wall Street as the world’s tallest building.
But Chrysler’s team still had a trick up its sleeve. The building’s massive spire was put together and hidden inside the structure during most of the work. In late October, 1929, Van Alen’s team raised the Chrysler Building’s point – not only claiming the title of the world’s largest building, but also beating out the Eiffel Tower as the world’s tallest structure altogether.
“A Bold Structure, Declaring the Glories of the Modern Age”
Walter Chrysler had big ideas. He wasn’t just interested in winning the Race for the Sky. He wanted to create something spectacular.
Even as the building’s completion coincided with the Stock Market collapse and the beginning of the Great Depression – it was originally intended to be a symbol of the explosive, decadent, limitless growth and success of Capitalism in America. According to Chrysler himself, it was to be “A bold structure, declaring the glories of the modern age.”
He decorated it with iconic imagery from his own corporation. The building is covered in hubcaps and Chrysler hood ornaments – meant to spread the Chrysler name across the globe.
The Symbol of America’s Most Decadent Time Period
The Chrysler Building is that and more. Flashing a crown and spire that has offshoots and copies throughout the globe, and a silhouette that’s graced everything from movie posters to small business logos, New York’s Chrysler Building is a timeless symbol of the roaring twenties. It’s an image of the future-conscious American spirit.