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Chrysler Building: Race to the Sky

J.M. Syken

Course Outline

The course will examine the influences of Arts Decoratifs (a.k.a. Art Deco) design in culture, the arts and, in particular, architecture. Officially launched out of an international exhibition held in Paris in 1925, Art Deco played a critical role in the design of Skyscrapers such as the Chrysler Building. We will also examine the evolution of the Skyscraper form from its roots in the 1851 London exhibition, the rebuilding of Chicago (after the great fire of 1871) through to the Skyscraper races in New York City of the late 1920s/early 1930s.

The design of the Chrysler Building’s Lobby, Cloud Club, office floors and, especially, the exterior ornamentation will be discussed in-depth and detail. The influences, motivations etc. of the principal participants such as architect William Van Alen and owner Walter P. Chrysler will also be topics of great interest. As well, the construction of the Chrysler Building and its lasting legacy will be reviewed.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

Learning Objective

At the conclusion of this course, the student will be able to:

Intended Audience

This course is intended for architects, engineers, contractors and construction professionals.

Benefit to Attendees

The attendees will gain an intimate knowledge and insight into the creation of one of the world’s greatest Skyscrapers: The Chrysler Building

Course Introduction

One day a panicked Walter Chrysler admonished his architect William Van Alen “to do something,” he had learned that another building then under construction in lower Manhattan would beat out his tower by a few feet for the title of World’s Tallest Building. The fact that Van Alen’s ex-partner and now bitter rival was the architect of  this rival tower no doubt added to his motivation. In secret, a Vertex (spire) was constructed and hoisted through a shaft in just ninety minutes. Walter Chrysler had won the Race for the Sky, but eleven months later the title would be reclaimed by an even taller tower: the Empire State Building. Height may have been the motivation, but the character of the building is, in the end, what makes the Chrysler Building so unique and important.

Course Content

The following links contain the reference materials and lecture handouts for this webinar:

Robert Hughes - American Visions - Episode 6 (part 1/5) (video)
Chrysler Building: Race to the Sky (printable handout in PDF, 8 MB, see Note A below for downloading instruction)
Chrysler Building: Race to the Sky (non-printable slideshow for screen-viewing only, 10 MB, see Note A below for downloading instruction)
Chrysler Building - Piercing the Sky (HTML)

Note A: Please click on the above underlined hypertext to view, download or print the document for your study. Because of the large file size, we recommend that you first save the file to your computer by right-clicking the mouse and choosing "Save Target As ...", and then open the file in Adobe Acrobat Reader from your computer.

Because this course is offered as a "live" course, you are required to attend the webinar at the scheduled time and date. Please check the Webinar Schedule under course description on our website for currently scheduled meeting date and time. We will send you an invitation to the webinar through email approximately 24 hours before the webinar (confirmation of the receipt of the invitation is required). The certificate of completion will not be issued unless you attend the webinar and pass a quiz. Thank you for your cooperation.

Course Summary

Ultimately, the Chrysler Building would take its rightful place in New York City’s skyline, but not without a fight. Architectural critics of the day panned the building as a “stunt design” and an ego-trip for Walter Percy Chrysler. Unlike the much praised Empire State Building (a.k.a. Empty State Building) the Chrysler Building; just a stone’s throw from Grand Central Station, was a commercial success even in the dire circumstances of the widening depression.  The Chrysler Building’s greatest success however is its endearing qualities as a reflection of the heady times that created it and worldwide recognition as a monument to Art Deco art and architecture.

Related Links

For additional technical information related to this subject, please visit the following websites:

Wikipedia - Chrysler Building


Before you attend the webinar, you need to print the quiz questions from your browser for your study during the webinar. At the end of the webinar, you need to complete the quiz and submit your answers to obtain the PDH credits.

DISCLAIMER: The materials contained in the online course are not intended as a representation or warranty on the part of PDH Center or any other person/organization named herein. The materials are for general information only. They are not a substitute for competent professional advice. Application of this information to a specific project should be reviewed by a registered architect and/or professional engineer/surveyor. Anyone making use of the information set forth herein does so at their own risk and assumes any and all resulting liability arising therefrom.