Thinc Design: Second Award of World Design Awards 2020. The Empire State Building occupies a singular, near-mythic place in the global imagination. In 2015, the building’s owner, Empire State Realty Trust, began a spectacular reimagining of the building’s famed Observatory that would celebrate the historic icon and add a wide range of innovative and immersive experiences to its singular views of New York. Thinc was the project’s Experience Designer, working in collaboration with Beneville Studios, IDEO, Squint/Opera, and a host of other consultants and production partners.
Project Dream, as the then-confidential project was known, arose from an opportunity to reclaim street-level space on the building’s 34th Street storefront to create, for the first time, a dedicated Observatory guest entrance. This provided an opportunity to completely change the way over 4 million annual guests would experience the building, reducing wait times and adding interest, engagement, and value throughout the journey.
Early guest research showed that people around the world had immense affection for the building, and a strong and aspirational identification with it. They loved the view, but not the queue. They hungered for a deeper connection to the building, were curious about its history, and thought of it as a starting point to get to know New York.
The dedicated Observatory entrance eased the congestion of guests’ entry into the building, which had always shared the majestic Fifth Avenue lobby with building tenants. It includes gracious ticketing and security areas, and exhibit features that celebrate guests’ arrival. The new entrance occupies two floors, joined by a grand, highly-detailed stainless steel stair that ascends around a spectacular, 24-foot tall model of the building. The model, illuminated like the real building, marks the spectacular beginning of the new Observatory experience.
The second floor Observatory Galleries comprise a sequence of immersive spaces that begin with time-travel back to the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street in 1929, just before the grand old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel was demolished to make room for what would remain the tallest building in the world for the next 41 years. The black-and-white scene comes vividly to life through custom VR telescopes, designed as vintage surveyor’s levels, arrayed around an authentic surveyor’s marker from the site. In the next space, the building’s breathtaking 13-month construction (four floors per week!) is transformed into a surround-sound and video experience in full scale. An exhibition of the building’s Otis Elevators—the most advanced in the world when it opened, and once again the most advanced today after a multi-year replacement—features authentic machinery from the 102nd floor, reanimated and in operation, along with a dizzying view up and down an open elevator shaft (is it real?). A sweeping array of more than 70 video screens shows movies, TV shows, cartoons, and comics that have featured the building since the first-ever blockbuster, King Kong. And around the corner, guests enter a full-scale encounter with Kong himself, while the giant ape fends off circling biplanes and peers inquisitively inside.
Firm: Thinc Design
Architect: Tom Hennes
Category: Design Built
Project Location: New York City, NY
Team: Tom Hennes, Clare Hughes, Jorge Martinez, Molly McBride, Kathryn Ruopp, Bill Camp, Trip Kyle, Elana Friedman, Christopher Boyd, Aki Shigemori, Rhoda Cosme, Oronde Wright, Matt Tarpley, Zahava Doering
Experience Designer—Thinc Design, Design Consultants— Beneville Studios, IDEO, Owner’s Representative—JLL, Media Designer—Squint/Opera, Architect—Corgan, Lighting Consultant—The Lighting Practice, Construction Manager—Skanska, Technology Integrator—Intersection, Exhibit Fabricator—Maltbie, Hardware Integrator—Diversified, Structural Engineer—Thorton Tomasetti, MEP Engineer—Syska Hennessy Group
Country: United States
Photography ©Credit: Thinc Design
Thinc Design is a multi-disciplinary world-renowned exhibition design firm located in New York, serving clients across North America and around the globe in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Incorporated in 1992, the studio has successfully completed projects for a wide range of museums, science centers, aquariums, zoos, attractions, global brands, and governments. We have evolved a unique approach that synthesizes theatre, art, pedagogy, persuasion, social exchange, digital tools, and play. Our projects are known for enabling transformative experiences that fundamentally alter the way people think about the world, about themselves, and about each other.