Empire State Building Lobby Getting a Makeover

Image Courtesy Beyer Blinder Belle

Although not generally known for its ground-floor views, the Empire State Building—which recently topped an AIA poll of Americans’ favorite buildings—may soon give visitors a reason to linger at street level. The lobby of this Art Deco skyscraper, designed by William Lamb and completed in 1931, is being restored.

A plastic-panel dropped ceiling in the lobby, added in the 1960s, is being removed. In its place will go a re-creation of the original ceiling, a gold-leaf-on-canvas abstraction of planets and stars. A re-creation, rather than a restoration, is necessary because removing the white paint slapped over the original art was deemed too costly and difficult, explains Richard Metsky, an architect with Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners, which is handling the renovation. Crews will stretch a new canvas over the old one, preserving it in case future generations ever develop a more cost-effective restoration method. The work will be completed as part of a $400 million, full-building renovation that includes both interior upgrades and the installation of 6,500 replacement windows.

Overall, Metsky hopes to improve the character of a lobby whose triple-height main entry and buffed gray-and-lilac terrazzo floors has in recent years been muddled by bulky security gates and garish storefront signs. Renovations, which begin in July and will last until March 2008, will add rows of cold cathode bulbs to brighten the dim space, which encompasses half a city block and has five entrances. Back-lighted illustrations of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, added in the 1960s, will be removed.

Beyer Blinder Belle is particularly suited to the project, having restored Grand Central Terminal and the Chrysler Building, both nearby New York City landmarks with highly decorative ceilings. “This is great opportunity to be able to restore the drama and character of what the original architects intended,” Metsky says. “It’s a very theatrical space.”