The Rchive no. 5—The Art Deco Empire
The Empire State Building is not only one of the greatest examples of architecture in New York City, but it contains some of the greatest lettering. On the back wall of the Fifth Avenue lobby is a stunning map of New York State (the Empire State) made of marble, steel and bronze. The lettering of cities, rivers, lakes and adjoining states is in steel in an Art Deco style that is reminiscent of Paul Renner’s Futura Display, though much livelier and more stylish. Some letters are stencil and others are not. The R is in the latter category. What makes it so appealing is the way in which the anonymous designer treated the counter, creating a trapezoid rather than the more predictable rectangle or semi-circle. The diagonals at top and bottom of the counter add a bit of dynamism to the letter.
The larger letters of “EMPIRE STATE” maintain the same basic form as the smaller letters except that they are decorative. A bronze stripe runs through the stems of letters and, for A, M and S, through the diagonals. However, for some reason the stripe is missing from the diagonal leg of R. It was a good decision. The bowl of R is larger than in its smaller counterpart and thus its leg kicks out at a different angle.