Empire State Building Observatory Galleries

Finalist 2020

A re-envisioning of the Empire State Building’s visitor experience has resulted in a fully immersive experience that excites, educates and entertains visitors from its entrance to its iconic observation deck. Spanning over 35,000 square feet, the result is a multi-sensory journey through one of the world’s most famous buildings.

As the most popular attraction in New York, with over 4 million people traveling through the building each year, the aim was to bring the experience of visiting this 20th-century icon into the 21st century. Large-scale, immersive experiences took precedence over text-heavy didactics. Yet, all stories told through the media had to be easily understood by the millions of non-English speakers who come each year. All content had to be human-translated into nine languages. Additionally, goals were set to increase the Empire State Building’s social media presence by creating media with key "selfie-spots,” that encourage visitors to share memorable moments during their visit.

For the Construction Gallery on the first floor, historically accurate videos across 4 walls and ceiling display live-action footage with detailed animation, CGI and VFX. The resulting exhibit transports guests back in time through a looped film that features 30 different actors with hot rivets and steel beams flying overhead as the construction of the building is in full swing.

The Kong exhibit welcomes guests into a 1930s-era office inside of the Empire State Building, where a life-size King Kong clings to the side of the structure, peering in at viewers and dodging bi-planes as he climbs. Guests can climb into his hand and feel the rumble as he roars, while lights flicker overhead. Designed for selfie moments, the exhibit meets a key client goal of social media ‘shareability.’

Since the opening of the galleries in 2019, the Empire State Building has gone back to the top of the list of most visited attractions in New York according to research by Uber. In addition, The King Kong gallery went viral on Reddit at its opening, with over 200k upvotes.

Design Firms: 

Squint/Opera

Client: 

Empire State Realty Trust

Project Area: 

30,000 sq ft

Open Date: 

November 2019

Project Budget: 

Confidential

Photo Credits: 

Evan Joseph, Squint/Opera

Design Team: 

Callum Cooper (creative director), Holly Houghton (executive project producer), Constance Nutall (creative producer), Archie McLeish (art director), Jonny Williams (creative technologist), Chris Kim (production assistant and editor), Antonia Blair (full stack developer), Siyuan Qiu (front end developer), Elias Zananiri (technical director), Yujie Jiang (junior designer)

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