Learn more about Seagram Building
The Seagram Building is a skyscraper in New York City, located at 375 Park Avenue, between 52nd Street and 53rd Street in Midtown Manhattan. It was designed by the German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, in collaboration with the American Philip Johnson and was completed in 1958. It is 156.9 meters tall with 38 stories. It stands as one of the finest examples of the functionalist aesthetic and a masterpiece of corporate modernism. It was designed as the headquarters for the Canadian distillers Joseph E. Seagram's & Sons, thanks to the foresight of Phyllis Lambert, the daughter of Samuel Bronfman, Seagram's CEO.
The interior was designed to continue the overall vision with the external features repeated in the glass and bronze furnishings and decorative scheme.
But the building itself (and the International Style in which it was built) had enormous influences on American architecture. One of the style's characteristic traits was to express the structure of buildings externally; a building's structural elements should be visible, Mies thought. The Seagram building (and virtually all large buildings of the time) was built of a steel frame, from which non-structural glass walls were hung. Mies would have wanted the steel frame to be visible to all; however, American building codes required that all structural steel be covered in a fireproof material (steel, with its low melting point, will fail in fires), usually concrete. This hid the structure of the building — something Mies wanted at all costs to avoid — so Mies used non-structural bronze-toned I-beams to suggest structure instead. These are visible from the outside of the building, and run vertically like mullions in the large glass windows. Now, observers look up and see a fake structure tinted bronze covering a real steel structure. However, this method of construction using an interior reinforced concrete shell to support a larger non-structural edifice has become commonplace.
On completion, the construction costs of Seagram made it the world's most expensive skyscraper, due to the use of expensive quality materials and lavish interior decoration including included bronze, travertine and marble.
Another interesting aspect of the Seagram building regards the window blinds. As was common with International Style architects, Mies wanted a complete regularity in the appearance of the building. One aspect of a façade that he disliked was the irregularity in appearance when blinds have been drawn. Inevitably, people using different windows will draw blinds to different heights, making the building look disorganized. To reduce this, Mies used blinds that only worked in three positions - fully open, halfway open/closed, or fully closed.
 The Plaza
The Seagram Building and the Lever House, which sits just across Park Avenue, set the architectural style for skyscrapers in New York for several decades. It appears as a simple bronze box, set back from Park Avenue by a large, open granite plaza. Mies did not intend the open space in front of the building to become a gathering area, but it developed as such, and became very popular as a result. In 1961, when New York City wrote what would become the nation's first comprehensive building code, it offered incentives for developers to install "privately owned public spaces" which were meant to emulate that of the Seagram's Building; the following 40 years of development in Manhattan did so with relatively little success.
The building is the location of The Four Seasons Restaurant, also designed by Mies van der Rohe and Johnson. Its interiors have been maintained as they were when it opened in 1959. The artist Mark Rothko was famously engaged to paint a series of works for the restaurant in 1958. Accepting the commission, he secretly resolved to create "something that will ruin the appetite of every son-of-a-bitch who ever eats in that room". Observing the restaurant's pretentious atmosphere upon his return from a trip to europe, Rothko abandoned the project altogether, returned his advance and kept the paintings for himself. The final series was dispersed and now hangs in three locations: London’s Tate Gallery, Japan’s Kawamura Memorial Museum and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C..
 External links
- Architectural history and description
- Capsule descriptive quotes
- Herbert Muschamp's encomium
- The Four Seasons Restaurant
- Wolfe, Tom. From Bauhaus to Our House. Bantam Books, 1981.