The Chrysler Building:

An Engineering Reform and

an Architectural Revolution


by Christopher Megerian and Cam Mosgrove 


Historical Skyscrapers / Engineering / Architecture / Completion




Walter P. Chrysler was owner of Chrysler Motors, a profitable automobile company. It was 1928, and the automobile was still a relatively new invention and even considered a novelty by some. Chrysler looked for ways to increase the popularity and visibility of his company and his product. He decided to take advantage of a new type of architecture, the architecture of the tall building, or skyscraper. He hired William van Alen to design him the world's tallest and most magnificent skyscraper, a showcase for his company and a symbol of America's power and wealth.

The Chrysler Building from the air.


The idea of building tall structures was a relatively new one. Just fifty years before the construction of the Chrysler Building the technology needed to build tall buildings was nonexistent. Until the 1880s, buildings had bearing walls, meaning that the walls carried the weight of the entire building. The walls, usually made of brick or concrete, had to be made extremely thick to support the weight of large buildings. In the end, walls didn't have the strength to support tall buildings.


The Home Insurance Building

In the late 1800s, William Le Baron Jenney invented the steel skeleton, a network of steel beams that would hold the weight of a building. Since the skeleton would carry the burden of the building, walls were no longer needed for support. Enormously thick walls were now unnecessary, making it easier to build taller buildings. Jenny designed the ten story Home Insurance Building in Chicago in 1885. The Home Insurance Building is considered the world's first skyscraper. Click here to see how to build a steel skeleton skyscraper.

Louis Sullivan became the pioneer in the field of skyscraper architecture. One of his most famous buildings is the The Carson Pirie Scott & Company Building in Chicago. It was completed in 1906. Said Louis Sullivan of the skyscraper, "Every inch a proud and soaring thing, rising in sheer exultation."

The Carson Pirie Scott & Company Building



While the Chrysler Building was not as revolutionary as the Home Insurance Building, it added many new reforms to skyscraper engineering. While the Chrysler Building retained the idea of a steel skeleton, it divided its interior into two sections, the inner and outer core. The inner core was made of concrete to help stabilize the building despite strong winds. It contained the elevators, stairs, and mechanical systems, things that didn't require natural light. The outer core housed offices and other areas frequented by people. The walls of the Chrysler Building are made of stone and provide insulation. No part of the walls helps support the building.



Windows are arranged geometrically. (



The architecture of the Chrysler Building is greatly admired. It is one of the few skyscrapers that are almost universally liked by architects. The entire building, from the African marble lobby to the classical spire is a masterpiece of the architectural style called art deco. Art deco was just becoming popular in the 1920's and its popularity continued into the 1930's. The Chrysler Building is one of the first and best known art deco buildings. Other art deco buildings include Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building.
The art deco style is characterized by thin, long forms with geometric patterning and curved surfaces. The Chrysler Building is indeed long and thin. Geometric patterns are evident on the facade of the Chrysler Building. The windows are arranged very orderly and at specific intervals. Geometric patterns meld into the curved, classical spire at the top of the Chrysler Building. The spire is one of the most stunning and beautiful aspects of the structure. The stainless steel arches shine brilliantly in the sunlight.

Golden sunlight reflected off the arches of the Chrysler Building.

While art deco is the primary architectural form present in the Chrysler Building, neo-Gothic ornaments are present on the facade of the building. Walter P. Chrysler wanted the building to be highly decorated, much like his automobiles. Eagles perch near the top of the building and and hubcaps decorate other areas of the facade.

Eagle ornaments on the Chrysler Building. (



In early 1930 the Chrysler Building was completed. It narrowly defeated the nearby Bank of Manhattan in terms of height. The Chrysler Building officially opened on May 28, 1930.  It stood a victorious 1,046 feet from the street to the tip of the spire and had 77 floors. Click here to get more specifics on the Chrysler building.  Today, the Chrysler Building is still standing and used as an office building.  The building has kept its original name since its construction, even though today it is not owned by Chrysler, but TMW Real Estate and Tishman Speyer. 

Two men atop one of the eagle ornaments of the
Chrysler Building.



The Chrysler Building is no longer one of the tallest structures in the world, but it is one of the most spectacular. The Chrysler Building was a landmark in skyscraper construction, incorporating new reforms. The amazing architecture is still admired by people across the globe.  It is a building that has made a lasting impression on millions of people. Every single part of the Chrysler Building, from the spellbinding spire to the mysterious ornaments, truly make the building "a proud and soaring thing."


Top of Page  



Building Big: Skyscrapers.  Host David Mccauley.  PBS.  WGBH Television, Boston. 17 Oct. 2000.


Campi, Mario. Skyscraper: An Architectural Type of Modern Urbanism. Boston: Birkhauser, 2000.


The Chrysler Building. (26 Nov. 01)


City of Chicago: Chicago Landmarks. Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building.


Daniel's Manhattan Architecture. Chrysler Building. (26 Nov. 01)


Ellis, William S.  "Skyscrapers." National Geographic.  February 1989: 140-173.


Harris, Tom. How Skyscrapers Work.  1998-2001. (7 Nov. 2001).


Horsley, Carter B. The Chrysler Building/The Kent Building. (26 Nov. 01)


"Louis Sullivan." DISCovering World History. Gale Research, 1997. From Patricia Sharpe, "Louis Sullivan." Great Lives from History, Frank N. Magill, ed. American Series, Vol. 5. Salem Press, 1987. Reproduced in Student Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group. December, 2000.


Maccauley, David.  Building Big. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.  2000.


Maccauley, David.  Unbuilding. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.  1980.


New York: The Chrysler Building.


The NYC Insider. The Chrylser Building. (26 Nov. 01)


"Skyscrapers." DISCovering Science. Gale Research, 1996. Reproduced in Student Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group. December, 2000.


The Skyscraper Museum. The Skyscraper Museum.  Fall 2001 (8 Nov. 2001).


WGBH. Chrysler Building. (26 Nov. 01)


WGBH. Home Insurance Building. (5 Jan. 02)


"William Le Baron Jenney." DISCovering U.S. History. Gale Research, 1997. Reproduced in Student Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group. December, 2000.


Willis, Carol, ed. Building the Empire State. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998. (This is the notebook of a construction worker at the Empire State Building. It is a primary source because it provides first hand knowledge on the construction of a skyscraper.)



Top of Page