The Chrysler Building is a classic example of Art Deco architecture and considered by many contemporary architects to be one of the finest buildings in New York City. It was the headquarters of the Chrysler Corporation from 1930 until the mid-1950s, but, although the building was built and designed specifically for the car manufacturer, the corporation did not pay for the construction of it and never owned it. Walter P. Chrysler decided to pay for it himself, so that his children could inherit it. The building is currently owned by Tishman Speyer, along with a new Millenium style buliding 'Chrysler East'. Collectively the buildings are known as the Chrysler Centre, taking the entire of 42nd Street, between Lexington Avenue and Third Avenue.
The Chrysler Building was designed by architect William Van Alen for a project of Walter P. Chrysler. When the ground breaking occurred on September 19, 1928, there was an intense competition in New York City to build the world's tallest skyscraper. Despite a frantic pace (the building was built at an average rate of four floors per week), no workers died during the construction of this skyscraper.
Van Alen's original design for the skyscraper called for a decorative jewel-like glass crown. It also featured a base in which the showroom windows were tripled in height and topped by 12 stories with glass-wrapped corners, creating an impression that the tower appeared physically and visually light as if floating in mid-air. The height of the skyscraper was also originally designed to be 246 meters (807 ft). However, the design proved to be too advanced and costly for building contractor William H. Reynolds, who disapproved of Van Alen's original plan. The design and lease were then sold to Walter P. Chrysler, who worked with Van Alen and redesigned the skyscraper for additional stories; it was eventually revised to be 282 m (925 ft) tall. As Walter Chrysler was the chairman of the Chrysler Corporation and intended to make the building into Chrysler's headquarters, various architectural details and especially the building's gargoyles were modeled after Chrysler automobile products like the hood ornaments of the Plymouth; they exemplify the machine age in the 1920s.
The Chrysler Building is considered a leading example of Art Deco architecture. The corners of the 61st floor are graced with eagles; on the 31st floor, the corner ornamentation are replicas of the 1929 Chrysler radiator caps. In total, the building currently contains 3,862 windows on its facade and 4 banks of 8 elevators designed by the Otis Elevator Corporation. The building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976.
The Chrysler Building is also renowned and recognized for its terraced crown. Composed of seven radiating terraced arches, Van Alen's design of the crown is a cruciform groin vault constructed into seven concentric members with transitioning setbacks, mounted up one behind another. The stainless-steel cladding is ribbed and riveted in a radiating sunburst pattern with many triangular vaulted windows, transitioning into smaller segments of the seven narrow setbacks of the facade of the terraced crown. The entire crown is clad with silvery "Enduro KA-2" metal, an austenitic stainless steel developed in Germany by Krupp and marketed under the trade name "Nirosta" (a German acronym for nichtrostender Stahl, meaning "non-rusting steel").
Construction commenced on September 19, 1928. In total, almost 400,000 rivets were used and approximately 3,826,000 bricks were manually laid, to create the non-loadbearing walls of the skyscraper. Contractors, builders and engineers were joined by other building-services experts to coordinate construction.
As part of the competition at the time to build the tallest building in New York, Van Alen obtained permission for a 38-meter (125 ft) long spire and had it secretly constructed inside the frame of the building. The spire was delivered to the site in four different sections. On October 23, 1929, the bottom section of the spire was hoisted onto the top of the building's dome and lowered into the 66th floor of the building. The other remaining sections of the spire were hoisted and riveted to the first one in sequential order in just 90 minutes.
Upon completion, May 20, 1930, the added height of the spire allowed the Chrysler Building to surpass 40 Wall Street as the tallest building in the world and the Eiffel Tower as the tallest structure. It was the first man-made structure to stand taller than 1,000 feet (305 m). Van Alen's satisfaction in these accomplishments was likely muted by Walter Chrysler's later refusal to pay the balance of his architectural fee. Less than a year after it opened to the public on May 27, 1930, the Chrysler Building was surpassed in height by the Empire State Building, but the Chrysler Building is still the world's tallest steel-supported brick building.
The east building wall of the base out of which the tower rises runs at a slant to the Manhattan street grid, following a property line that predated the Commissioners' Plan of 1811. The land on which the Chrysler Building stands was donated to The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, a private college that offers every admitted student a full tuition scholarship, in 1902. The land was originally leased to William H. Reynolds, but, when he was unable to raise money for the project, the building and the development rights to the land were acquired by Walter P. Chrysler in 1928. Contrary to popular belief, the Chrysler Corporation was never involved in the construction or ownership of the Chrysler Building, although it was built and designed for the corporation and served as its headquarters until the mid-1950s. It was a project of Walter P. Chrysler for his children.