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In late May, when New York Times reporters Keith Collins and Matthew Haag sent their first email to the company that owns the Empire State Building, New York was due to reopen fully within six to eight weeks – and they had a ambitious idea of ââhow to cover it.
They wanted to create a 3D model of the building that would showcase the reopening of its offices, retail stores, and observation deck. They would use floor plans to create an immersive experience that would take readers inside the world’s most famous skyscraper.
There was just one problem: the company, Empire Realty Trust, refused to provide them with information.
“They wouldn’t give us anything,” said Mr. Collins, visual reporter and graphic editor at The New York Times. “Not even the phone book.”
Determined to find out what well-known real estate might say about New York’s future, The Times assembled a team of more than a dozen reporters and editors to comb through vacant housing listings, track down and interview tenants and spend over three months building an interactive visual feature that would illustrate the building’s current occupants. The article was published online last week.
Although the model uses state-of-the-art graphics software, Mr Collins said producing it would have been impossible without the reporting on the leather of the shoes. For about six weeks, Mr. Collins; Mr. Haag, reporter at the Metro counter; Peter Eavis, an economics journalist who covers business and markets; and Barbara Harvey, a press assistant, called and emailed companies that listed addresses in the Empire State Building. They checked which ones were in the building and asked them about their plans to return to the office during the pandemic. Ms Harvey made the bulk of the calls, while Mr Haag and Mr Eavis tried to analyze leases and sublet agreements for some of the larger tenants, like LinkedIn and Global Brands Group.
âWe thought it would be a very rigid survey that would just provide us with data to use to tell the story,â Collins said. “But many of the best quotes in history came from these calls.”
While reporters tracked down tenants, Karthik Patanjali, a special projects editor for The Times graphics, led a team that built the 3D model. The exterior of the skyscraper was the simpler part: the team relied on publicly available 3D models of New York City and data from Google Street View. The interior was a more delicate affair, constructed piecemeal from in-person visits, interviews with tenants, vacancy listings, promotional material, and public documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. United States.
For this project, the graphics team simulated the reduced volume of visitors to the Empire State Building’s 86th-floor observatory. They mapped the spaces tenants had left and a floor where a business will have to accommodate fewer workers in the office. Readers can see the commercial space on the ground floor that has been vacated.
For Mr. Patanjali, who grew up in India, the project was an opportunity to dive deeper into a building that had held an important place in his youth.
âThe Empire State Building was once this fictional, magical thing somewhere in the United States,â Mr. Patanjali said. âBeing able to work on this in such close proximity just seems surreal. “
Simone Landon, an assistant graphic editor who worked on the project and has lived in New York for a decade, was surprised by what the team unearthed on the famous skyscraper.
“I never thought about what really is in Empire State Building, âMs. Landon said. âThere are tiny tenants, like a dentist or a law firm, next to big companies. You have all this richness and texture that you wouldn’t have if it was one business.