GE Building

Added by Myun Song, last update: August 17, 2012, 1:58 pm

GE Building
The GE Building, source: Myun Song, date: Feb. 6. 2011
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY NY 10112
United States
40° 45' 32.508" N, 73° 58' 45.1308" W
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Identity of Building / Site
Primary classification: Commercial (COM)
Secondary classification:
Federal, State, or Local Designation(s) and Date(s):

National Register of Historic Places - December 23, 1987
National Historic Landmark - December 23, 1987
New York City Landmark - April 23, 1985

History of Building/Site
Original Brief:

GE Building is the center piece of the Rockefeller Center. It is impossible to talk about GE Building without its surrounding context in that they were planed all together. Rockefeller Center was built by John D. Rockefeller Jr., son of the founder of Standard Oil. However, he was not involved in the beginning of the development of the site. It was Metropolitan Opera who came to find a new home in the land that was owned by Columbia University. John D. Rockefeller got into the development after Otto Kahn, a patron of the Metropolitan Opera, solicited his help. However, the original plan was never realized because the Depression made the opera group to withdraw from the project. Their departure left Rockefeller with the land where current Rockefeller Center stands. Instead of being discouraged, Rockefeller and John R. Todd, an executive director of the project, came up with the plan for a commercial center. They found a new tenant, Radio Corporation of America (RCA), which is the GE building's former name. The initial plan, which was made when the opera group was expected to come in, did not include a tall skyscraper, although the plan had included the plaza infront of the building. It was Raymond Hood, the famous skyscraper architect, who determined the design of the RCA building. The building resembles some of his previous work, such as the Daily News Building in New York City.

Dates: Commission / Completion:Commission - October 1. 1929 Excavation started - July 1931 Construction started - Jan 1932 Opened to the public - May 1933
Architectural and other Designer(s): Associated Architects: Raymond Hood, Harvey Wiley Corbett, William H. MacMurray, Frederick A. Godley, Jacques Andre Fouilhoux, L. Andrew Reinhard, Henry Hofmeister, Carl Landefeld, George Pauly, Wallace K. Harrison
Others associated with Building/Site: John R. Todd (a developer), John D. Rockefeller Jr., Diego Rivera who painted a mural which was replaced by the work of Jose Maria Sert, Lee Lawrie (sculptor), Paul Manship (sculptor)
Significant Alteration(s) with Date(s): RCA West Building was added as an extension of RCA Building in 1933. The Sixth Avenue subway was integrated to the RCA West Building in 1940. The West 50th Street freight and trucking entrance was altered to shopfronts in 1935. Alterations were made to a West 49th Street storefront in 1937.
Current Use: Offices, NBC headquarters, restaurants, Top of the Rock (an observatory).
Current Condition: The building is in a good state of repair.
General Description:

The GE Building is a seventy story steel frame limestone-clad skyscraper in the Art Deco style. The building base is clad in Deer Island granite, and the shaft is clad in Indiana limestone with aluminum spandrel panels. The main entrance is marked by Lee Lawrie's limestone and glass sculptural relief. It is roughly rectangular in plan with a maximum width of 190 feet. Its total area is about 2,200,000 square feet and height is 850 feet. It is the center piece of the entire Rockefeller Center, and it met demands for studio, retail and office space for the radio group, the original tenants. The building has distinctive setbacks derived from the principle of providing light and air to all parts of the building.

Construction Period:

July 1931 - May 1933

Original Physical Context:

The original property owner was Columbia University, and this monolithic ownership by Columbia University had preserved the low-level residential scale.

Technical Evaluation:

The GE Building is a steel-frame skyscraper building with masonry cladding exterior curtain wall. It is 10th tallest building in New York City and 33rd tallest in the United States.
The setbacks at the sides of the slab of the GE Building are there not only for aesthetic reason, but also to decrease the number of elevator shafts on the upper floors. In addition, new high speed elevators had just become legal, the architects were able to save about 30,000 square feet reducing the number of elevators. The arrangement at the building provided more than two million square feet of prime office space, distinguishing it for years as the world's largest office building in floor area.
Since the original tenant was the Radio Group, there was soundproofing needed for the building. "In order to ensure soundproofing all the studios were designed with "floating" walls, floors and ceilings suspended and insulated from the building's structural frame."
The architects and managers, especially John R. Todd, set 27 and a half foot principle, which left no more than 27 and a half feet between windows and service areas. The exterior of the building was cut back to the dimensions exacted by this principle, leaving the upper parts unusally slender.
It is noteworthy that its limestone cladding was 8 inch thick from base to the top, which was thicker than 12 inch that was advised by the building code of the time, and it was the first building which cladding was not tapered to the top.


Rockefeller Center was the only large, non-government architectural project executed between the Great Depression and the Second World War. It not only employed thousands of workers during the Depression, but restored the commerce and image of New York before the economic downturn. The RCA building represented the ideal modern skyscraper in its own metropolis, Rockefeller Center. The influence of the center was great by providing open space to the public as a form of palza, garden and promenade.

Cultural & Aesthetic:
The two-story base conciliates between the tall skyscraper and the human-scale plaza and streets. Carefully chosen setbacks give it two very distinctive characteristics. From east or west, the building looks tall and slender, which is visible in its entirety from Fifth Avenue down the Channel Gardens. From north or south, the setbacks are less visible, and give the impression of a tall, broad, flat slab. With its rhythmic setbacks expressing the Cubism, the building was a "hymn to modernity, to a sunny future, to all the scientific wonders that the 20th century encompassed." In style, the building was largely dependent upon Beaux Arts principles of design, but modified by specific tenant needs and the requirement for maximum profit which was desired by John R. Todd, the developer. Its exterior and interior decorations including murals, paintings, mosaic and sculptures are magnificant.

The GE Building was the last skyscraper designed by Raymond Hood before his death at age 53. Also, it represented the beginning of the new slab aesthetic that would consequently characterize modern commercial architecture in the Art Deco style. It has served as the prototype for numerous commercial developments worldwide.
According to Le Corbusier, "it is rational, logically conceived, biologically normal, harmonious in its four functional elements: halls for the entrance and division of crowds, grouped shafts for vertical criculation, corridors, regular office." (Bacon, Mardges. Le Corbusier in America: Travels in the Land of the Timid. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2001. 265. Print.)
In his book Space Time and Architecture, Sigfried Giedion pointed out that until construction of RCA Building, skyscrapers in New York City "lacked scale, dignity, and strength, becoming simply towers rising to extreme heights" whitout careful consideration of their surroundings. RCA Building emerged as the new form of the skyscraper following its immediate forerunner Daily Mail Building in New York. (Giedion, Sigfried. "The Civic Center: Rockefeller Center, 1931-39." Space Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2008. 847-48. Print.)
In the early 1930s, Lewis Mumford, well known for his study of urban architecture, condemn the Rockefeller Center for its cultural, esthetic, and urban deficiencies as "mediocrity seen thugh a magnifying glass." Also, according to William Jordy, "the mass destruction of blocks of old structures in order to build a compeletly new fabric, however warranted for the Center, has provided a disatrous precedent for other renewal situations. (Pierson, William H., and William H. Jordy. "Rockefeller Center and Corporate Urbanism." American Buildings and Their Architects. New York Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986. 84-85. Print.)
Nevertheless, Rockefeller Center beat the other massive redevelopment "visually, urbanistically, and even theoretically." The center provided the sense of place which its successors could not achieve.

General Assessment:
The RCA Building, now the GE Building, is the largest and most important building of Rockefeller Center. The building is a masterpiece of the Art Deco style which anchors the urban composition of Rockefeller Center, one of the most successful urban spaces in New York City. Its unique shape was derived from carefu consideration of prevailing factors such as interior lighting, use, service requirements, and visual value, which lacked in the previous New York skyscrapers. Although it has never been the tallest building neither in New York City nor in the world, it was the most successful monumental skyscraper to be built in America.
Text references:

Rockefeller Center: a Digest of Facts. Ed. Rockefeller Center, Inc. New York: Public Relations Dept., Rockefeller Center, 1979. 15. Print., Krinsky, Carol Herselle. Rockefeller Center. New York: Oxford UP, 1978. 131-32. Print., Adams, Janet, and Marjorie Pearson. "RCA Building." Rockefeller Center Designation Report. [New York]: Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1985. 9, 61, 62, 67, 70. Print.,"Guide to Rockefeller Center," RCW, 2 (May 23, 1935), insert 8., Krinsky, Carol Herselle. "The RCA Building." Rockefeller Center. New York: Oxford UP, 1978. 136-37. Print., New York Architecture, comp. "GE Building, Originally RCA Building." New York Architecture. New York Architecture. Web. ., Garrard, Lowe David., and Sylvia Warren. "The Rockefellers' Center." Art Deco New York. New York: Watson-Guptill Publ., 2004. 172. Print., Douglas, George H. "Rockefeller Center: A Festival of Skyscrapers." Skyscrapers: a Social History of the Very Tall Building in America. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland, 2004. 128-38. Print., Bacon, Mardges. Le Corbusier in America: Travels in the Land of the Timid. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2001. 264-65. Print., Giedion, Sigfried. "The Civic Center: Rockefeller Center, 1931-39." Space Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2008. 847-48. Print., Pierson, William H., and William H. Jordy. "Rockefeller Center and Corporate Urbanism." American Buildings and Their Architects. New York Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986. 84-85. Print., Lehman, Arnold L. "Rockefeller Center: And Investment In Urban Design." The New York Skyscraper a History of Its Development, 1870-1939. [New Haven, Conn.]: Yale University, 1974. 447. Print.

Recorder/Date: Myun Song/ Feb.13.2011
Additional Images
GE Building
The GE Building, Source: Myun Song, date: Feb. 6. 2011
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The GE Building, Source:, date: 19. Oct. 2005
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