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  • Writer's pictureNancy Clanton

Energy Leadership at the Empire State Building


Nancy Clanton standing on the Empire State Building observation deck

Opening in May of 1931 and built during the great depression, the Empire State Building was a beacon of hope during some of the most challenging times faced in the United States. Few would argue that today The Empire State Building is the most famous office building in the country. It is among the most famous buildings in the world! If the Empire State Building can transform into a better interior work environment— with improved lighting, daylighting and controls— all while increasing energy efficiency, than any building can do it too!


Changing the World with Innovative Design

In 2008, the Clinton Climate Initiative worked with Anthony Malkin, CEO of the realty trust that owns the Empire State Building, to assemble a team of experts including the Rocky Mountain Institute, Jones Lang LaSalle, and Johnson Controls to explore a “deep energy retrofit” for the Empire State Building. Clanton & Associates was selected to be a member of the Rocky Mountain Institute group that co-facilitated the design process.  


Clanton’s primary focus was to improve daylighting by replacing all the windows and removing the dropped lay-in ceilings. Indirect pendant lighting was installed to fill the spaces with uniform low glare ambient lighting which fills in the ceiling surfaces and highlights the original architecture. Accent lighting on the walls was designed to highlight art work in hallways and conference rooms. Each tenant was given flexible LED task lighting to supplement the ambient light and to provide a more personalized work environment. Dimming controls allow tenants to vary the intensity of lighting throughout the office, including conference rooms, and in their own personalized areas.


An additional improvement made by the lighting team focused on the existing public observation deck lighting. This lighting reflected off the windows, making it hard to see outside. Clanton & Associates redesigned all of the lighting to be aimed away from the windows with low glare, low energy, LED lighting, with added color for a visitor area experiential lighting. Controls provide flexibility in scenes during different times, seasons, and weather conditions.


Clanton & Associates also developed guidelines for the replacement of the exterior tower floodlights with color changing LED lights. This not only eliminated the need for maintenance staff to change color filters on the floodlights—an extremely dangerous task given the height and constant wind— but also decreased energy use, minimized sky glow, and allowed for more advanced color control.

Amazing Results and Continued Action

In our team’s final report, the primary motivation for the retrofit was that “The world needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75% by 2050 and retrofitting commercial buildings is a critical component of the solution.” The report went on to say that “Early adopters can catalyze change by demonstrating that commercially attractive retrofits can lead to significant greenhouse gas reductions.” One of the key findings of the report is that the package of measures created for the Empire State Building will result in enhanced indoor environmental quality for tenants, including better lighting conditions that coordinate ambient and task lighting.


The Empire State Building team’s energy modeling predicted an overall energy reduction of 38%. To date, the Empire State Building has surpassed that goal by reducing energy use by more than 40%! The Empire State Building Trust is continuously exploring more energy saving features for the building and hopes to save an additional 40% energy use.


In an article entitled “Empire State of Green” the Washington Post asks the question; “New York’s most famous skyscraper shrank its planet-warming emissions by 40 percent. Can the rest of the city do the same?”


The answer, with enough will and smart design, is YES!

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