Why Did It Take Only 1 Year to Construct the Empire State Building in 1930, but 7 Years to Construct One World Trade Center in Modern Times?

The Empire State Building is one of the most iconic buildings in the whole world. It’s a 102-story skyscraper standing at almost 1500 feet tall situated in Midtown Manhattan, New York.

One World Center (aka Freedom Tower) is also a very iconic building in Lower Manhattan, New York. At almost 1800 feet tall, it’s the tallest building in the United States and the Western Hemisphere.

Although the Empire State Building was built way back in 1930, it took considerably less time to finish than One World Center did in modern times. The reasons for this are explained below in four separate answers from the internet.


Actually, if you go to this wikipedia page, you’ll see that One WTC rose above street level in February of 2009, and topped out around February of 2013. That’s 4 years – which is actually on the mark for a large, developed city! Buildings like the brand new Shanghai Tower (which, to be fair, is a taller building) took an equal amount of time. Other cities in China built their skyscrapers faster, because they didn’t have the existing infrastructure to work around. The logistics of building a skyscraper in downtown Manhattan were a nightmare.

Most people wonder why One WTC took until 2009 to rise above street level – that answer is a little more complicated. The construction was plagued by budget overruns, planning deficiencies, red tape, and the 2008 financial crisis. It was also constructed to meet extremely rigorous safety and security standards: when the NYPD raised concerns that the building was too close to an expressway, they had to completely redesign the tower.


Architect here. The main reason is that the modern towers have massive concrete cores that take a very long time to cure (harden) while the Empire State Building was only a steel beam structure. Once a beam was in place, that part was done, no waiting.

There’s a little more. Imagine building a dumb box. Maybe it’s a nice box, but it doesn’t need to do anymore than just be a box. Now imagine that box needs light and water, so now instead of just a box it also needs to be wired for lights and pipes for plumbing. Now imagine that box needs lights and water and internet and outlets and phonelines and security systems and heating and cooling and sounds systems and tv access, ect. Installing all of those functions takes a very very long time. The Empire State building has been updated alot since it was built, but it was originally just a dumb box with lights water.


Modern technology and construction processes are more complex which takes more time. They also come with more safety regulations both in construction and in what workers are allowed to do. The Empire State Building was also much smaller.


I work for a developer who has converted similar era building from office to residential in NYC. I’ve had long conversations with my construction team on the same topic. I’ll list the reasons why these towers of old were built in incredibly short timeframes:

  • Site Safety – building construction is many multiples safer then it was in the 30’s. You had something like 5 deaths on a building the size of the empire state building in 1930, and 20 deaths for the equivalent of 40 (+-) empire state buildings of construction in 2015. On a 1930’s job site the foreman can tell Joe contractor to complete bat-shit crazy stuff. “Guys you need to pull 4 back to back shifts riveting these beams in place or you’re fired – you’re not getting paid for this because we’re behind schedule – and in case you forget you’re never going to find another job to feed your family because – you know – the great depression”. Nowadays on a union job you have to schedule and get approval for, 2 shifts of overtime subcontractors, overtime site safety inspectors, overtime controlled inspection inspectors, overtime building security, overtime hoist operator etc. On top of that you need to pull overtime work permits. All of this is at double time and potentially one of the groups might not be available or quote you some outrageous cost. So it’s harder more expensive to accelerate work nowadays, or keep schedule, compared to the 1930s because of safety related procedure and associated cost.
  • Permitting – there are inspections and permits throughout the construction process that cause delays. You can’t close a wall until your structural, mechanical, plumbing, sprinklers etc are inspected and approved – A-Z some if these inspections take 2-6 weeks. Not so much of a problem in the 1930’s.
  • Size and experience of your design team. The empire state building may have had 80 architects on the architecture team in 1930’s with computer aided design you might have 12 on an equivalent building – probably the same ratio for other consultants. During construction you had a bigger support team to coordinate field conditions – nowadays construction administration teams are typically understaffed.
  • CYA Cover Your Ass – you screw up you get sued or you don’t get a permit sign off. Nowadays regulation and legal repercussions stops corner cutting. I doubt that a 1930’s contractor would freak out about photographing 20,000 holes they filled with fire blocking.
  • Functional obsolescence/efficiency – they made things diesel back in the day – they really did – structure was overbuilt – pumps were built like tanks – there was less of a if it isn’t perfect to sixteenth of an inch it will fail mentality because things were overbuilt.


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