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Empire State Building (New York) – Original Architects’ Whiteprints Collection

 

 

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Amazing and extremely rare artefacts from the construction of one of the world’s most iconic structures, being a collection of 4 original large format whiteprint architectural plans drafted by the firm of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon for use during the creation of the Empire State Building, with comprehensive coverage, cumulatively showcasing almost all the principal elements of what would become the world’s tallest structure.

 

Description

 

SHREVE, LAMB & HARMON ARCHITECTS.

[EMPIRE STATE BUILDING – COLLECTION OF 4 ORIGINAL ARCHITECTS’ WHITEPRINTS].

New York: Shreve, Lamb & Harmon Architects (11 East 44th St.), 1930 – 1931.

4 Whiteprint Architectural Plans, please see below for details:

Amazing and extremely rare artefacts from the construction of one of the world’s most iconic structures, being a collection of 4 original large format whiteprint architectural plans drafted by the firm of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon for use during the creation of the Empire State Building, with comprehensive coverage, cumulatively showcasing almost all the principal elements of what would become the world’s tallest structure.

 

#1.

5th Ave Elevation / Empire State Building, 5th Ave 33rd to 34th St, New York City.

New York: ShreveLamb Harmon, February 4, 1930 (Revisions to October 15, 1930).

Whiteprint (Good, 16 cm tear entering frame with no loss upper right, small tear upper right blank margin, some light wear along old folds, old tack marks to corners), 112 x 92 cm (48 x 36 inches).

 

#2.

33rd & 34th Street Elevations / 37th Floor to Roof of Pent House / Empire State Building, 5th Ave 33rd to 34th St, New York City.

New York: ShreveLamb Harmon, February 4, 1930 (Revisions to June 4, 1930).

Whiteprint, with some contemporary manuscript calculations in pencil (Very Good, some tattering to blank margin lower left, old tack marks to corners), 122 x 92.5 cm (48 x 36.5 inches).

 

#3.

Elevations of Observation Tower / Empire State Building, 5th Ave 33rd to 34th St, New York City.

New York: ShreveLamb Harmon, September 26, 1930 (Revisions to February 4, 1931).

Whiteprint (Good, clean tear along fold lower right with no loss, part of tower mask partially, but intentionally and cleanly cut out and partly re-adhered with old masking tape, some old placing of black cloth tape, old tack marks to corners), 92 x 122 cm (36 x 48 inches).

 

#4.

Plans of Observation Tower / Empire State Building, 5th Ave 33rd to 34th St, New York City.

New York: ShreveLamb Harmon, September 26, 1930 (Revisions to May 1, 1931).

Whiteprint (Very Good, some natural oxidization along old folds as is common with whiteprints, old tack marks to corners), 92 x 121 cm (36 x 47.5 inches).

 

The Empire State Building is one of world’s iconic structures, an Art Deco masterpiece that stands 1,454 feet (443.2 m) tall, containing 102 stories.  It was the world’s tallest building from its completion in 1931 until 1970, and while today it is only the world’s 49th tallest edifice, it remains the globe’s most famous skyscraper.

Located in Midtown Manhattan, on Fifth Avenue, between 33rd and 34th Streets, the Empire State Building was constructed at remarkably rapid pace, in only thirteen months, with ground broken on March 17, 1930, and the structure opening on May 1, 1931.

The building was designed by the prestigious New York architectural firm of Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon, becoming their signature project.  The company was founded in 1920 by the Canadian architect Richmond Harold ‘R.H.’ Shreve (1877-1946) and the Brooklyn native, William Frederick Lamb (1883-1952).  In 1929 the partnership was joined by the Chicago architect Arthur Loomis Harmon (1878-1958).  The firm was responsible for designing several other prominent edifices in New Work, such as the 740 Park Avenue (1930), arguably New York’s most luxurious residential address, and the 60-story Art Deco skyscraper 500 Fifth Avenue (1931), as well as works further afield, such as the Jerusalem International YMCA (designed by Loomis, 1933).

 

Ironically, Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon employed and trained the then young, and later great, architect Minoru Yamasaki (1912-86), who designed the World Trade Centre, which broke the Empire State Building’s record as the world’s tallest structure.

 

Turning to the Empire State Building project, Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon altered the design of the building on numerous occasions, in part to ensure that its height well surpassed that of its rival, the Chrysler Building (at 1,046 feet / 319 m), which was completed only 11 months before the Empire State Building.

 

The Whiteprints in Focus

 

In designing the Empire State Building, Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon followed what were then standard architectural drafting conventions.  While provisional ideas were sketched on paper, and copied on tracing paper, the mature, approved designs for various elements of the structure were carefully drafted in black ink upon linen.  From this, whiteprint (or in some cases blueprint) copies were made, and the architects often used these prints as the bases for sketching amendments or discussing the building process with the construction contractors.  Significantly, the present whiteprints show clear signs of use by the architects, bearing contemporary manuscript markings, tack marks in the corners, while one print even has a figure partially cut out, presumably so that it could be viewed in 2-D.

 

The designs were often modified (usually only in small ways), with all amendments being carefully catalogued and dated in the registers by the title (as seen on all the present whiteprints).

 

The four present whiteprints are all taken directly from the original linen drawings (one can even see the patterns of the cloth on the printing).

 

Importantly, the present collection is comprehensive, cumulatively showcasing almost all the major elements of the building, with the elevations from the ground up to the top of the ‘Observation Tower’, which runs up to the 102nd floor, below the cupola which holds the building’s spire.  Additionally, there are floor plans of various levels of the Observation Tower. 

 

As was standard practice, all the plans feature meticulous measurements and the identification of the materials used for the various elements of the construction, with any revisions being noted in the registers by the title.  

 

Notably, the present whiteprints capture the building during a mature stage in its design, such that what is shown is either identical or very close to how the building appeared when complete.

 

Whiteprint #1. 5th Ave Elevation shows the side profile of the Empire State Building from the perspective of Fifth Avenue, with the view taken in parts.  The section on the left features the view from the ground up to the 37th floor, while on the right the view continues from the 38th to the 85th floor (the roof of the penthouse).  The highlight, on the left-hand view is, of course, the grand art Deco entrance, guarded by eagles, since one of the most memorable sights along Fifth Avenue.

 

The original manuscript drawing on linen upon which the present whiteprint is predicated seems to have been sold at Wright Auctions, Chicago, in 2008.  Please see a link:

 

https://www.wright20.com/auctions/2008/12/important-design-day-2/612

 

Whiteprint #2. 33rd & 34th Street Elevations / 37th Floor to Roof of Pent House shows the appearance of the Empire State Building from the side, captured between the 37th Floor to Roof of the Penthouse on the 85th floor.

 

Whiteprint #3. Elevations of Observation Tower continues the view from Whiteprint #1 and #2, showing two profile perspective views (North & South / East & West) of the beautiful Art Deco form of the entire ‘Observation Tower’, which runs from the 86th floor (home to the large observation deck) to the 102nd floor (hosting the small observation deck), just below the cupola that hold the building’s spire.

 

Interestingly, the view on the left (the North & South perspective) was contemporarily cut out, presumably so that the architects could view it in 2-D, before being partially taped back into place

 

The original manuscript drawing on linen upon which the present whiteprint is predicated seems to have been sold at Wright Auctions, Chicago, in 2008.  Please see a link:

 

https://www.wright20.com/auctions/2008/12/important-design-day-2/614

 

Whiteprint #4. Plans of Observation Tower shows 10 floor plans taken from various levels of the Observation Tower, providing a very detailed view of the internal organs within the elegant Art Deco construction which hosted the highest viewing deck in the world.

 

A Note on Rarity

 

We cannot trace any sales records for any other original whiteprints used in the construction of the Empire State Building, although we are aware (as already mentioned) of some of the original drawing as having appeared on the market.  Most importantly, a series of original Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon manuscript architectural plans, drafted on linen, appeared at Wright Auctions, Chicago (December 11, 2008), some of which sold for very considerable sums, including what appears to be the antecedent drawings for two of the present whiteprints.  Additionally, a series of original drawings of plans of the Empire State Building were offered at Swann Galleries, New York (April 16, 2013), including what appears to be the antecedent to the present Whiteprint #4, while most the others seem to have depicted only minor elements of the structure.  That being aid, any original works from the Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon office regarding the Empire State project are incredibly rare, and likely unique survivors.

 

References: N/A – Present Whiteprints Seemingly Not Recorded (See above for reverences to antecedent manuscript drawings).

 

 

 

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