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Construction history

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Building the Empire State. Carol Willis (editor). W W Norton. 190pp. £22.50.

A contemporary account of constructing the Empire State Building was recently discovered and is now the main content of a book*. Typed on to graph paper, the notes are based on day-to-day records, brought together by persons unknown as a summary to describe what was clearly felt to be a major project, both in scale and sophistication of process. The contract was signed with the architects in September 1929. By May 1931 the 2.1 million square feet on 85 storeys was open.

There is a focus on building delivery which Egan would approve. A fast- track contract left the consultants racing to keep pace with construction. They worked from an early stage with the cladding contractor, including what we would today call value engineering. On site, many materials and components were driven into the building at ground level, loaded direct into trucks, thence into hoists, and delivered to the workfaces on narrow gauge railways laid out on each floor.

Labour was relatively cheap, with 3500 men working on the building at its peak. Presumably people were not always that reliable, since rounds were made four times a day to check workers' attendance as well as a once- daily check on work output as part of cost control. To save time, concessions were let to local restaurants to provide meal breaks at several levels as the building went up.

The notes follow through the site clearance, construction and construction methods, the labour employed, plant used and sample costs. A construction manager's history rather than and an architect's, but fascinating nonetheless.

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