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The Seagram Building is a skyscraper in New York Citymarker, located at 375 Park Avenue, between 52nd Street and 53rd Streetmarker 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 516 feet tall with 38 stories. Severud Associates were the structural engineering consultants. 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.


This structure, and the International Style in which it was built, had enormous influences on Americanmarker architecture. One of the style's characteristic traits was to express or articulate the structure of buildings externally. It was a style that argued that the functional utility of the building’s structural elements when made visible, could supplant a formal decorative articulation; and more honestly converse with the public, than any system of applied ornamentation.A building's structural elements should be visible, Mies thought. The Seagram Building, like virtually all large buildings of the time, was built of a steel frame, from which non-structural glass walls were hung. Mies would have preferred the steel frame to be visible to all; however, American building codes required that all structural steel be covered in a fireproof material, usually concrete, because improperly protected steel columns or beams may soften and fail in confined fires. Concrete hid the structure of the building — something Mies wanted to avoid at all costs — 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, surrounding the large glass windows. Now, observers look up and see a "fake and tinted-bronze" structure covering a real steel structure. This method of construction using an interior reinforced concrete shell to support a larger non-structural edifice has since become commonplace. As designed, the building used 1,500 tons of bronze in its construction.

On completion, the construction costs of Seagram made it the world's most expensive skyscraper at the time, due to the use of expensive quality materials and lavish interior decoration including bronze, travertine, and marble. The interior was designed to assure cohesion with the external features, repeated in the glass and bronze furnishings and decorative scheme.

Another interesting feature of the Seagram building is the window blinds. As was common with International Style architects, Mies wanted the building to have a uniform appearance. One aspect of a façade which Mies disliked, was the disordered irregularity when window blinds are drawn. Inevitably, people using different windows will draw blinds to different heights, making the building appear disorganized. To reduce this disproportionate appearance, Mies specified window blinds which only operated in three positions - fully open, halfway open/closed, or fully closed.


The 38-story structure combines a steel moment frame and a steel and reinforced concrete core for lateral stiffness. The concrete core shear walls extend up to the 17th floor, and diagonal core bracing (shear trusses) extends to the 29th floor.

According to Severud Associates, the structural engineering consultants, it was the first tall building to use high strength bolted connections, the first tall building to combine a braced frame with a moment frame, one of the first tall buildings to use a vertical truss bracing system and the first tall building to employ a composite steel and concrete lateral frame.

The plaza

The Seagram Building and Lever Housemarker, which sits just across Park Avenue, set the architectural style for skyscrapers in New Yorkmarker 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 Citymarker enacted a major revision to its 1916 Zoning Resolution, the nation's first comprehensive Zoning Resolution, 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 Manhattanmarker did so with relatively little success.

The Seagram Building's plaza was also the site of a landmark planning study by William H. Whyte, the American sociologist. The film, Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, produced in conjunction with the Municipal Art Society of New York, records the daily patterns of people socializing around the plaza. It shows how people actually use space, varying from the supposed intent of the architects.

The Four Seasons

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.

References in popular culture

  • In the first episode of 1960s television series That Girl, Ann Marie works at the magazine stand in the lobby, which is also the location of the offices of Newsview Magazine, where her boyfriend Don Hollinger works. The opening credits of the first season show Ann walking north on Park Avenue and walking into the building.
  • The building and fountain form a backdrop to a scene in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany's.
  • In Company, a Stephen Sondheim musical, the protagonist, Bobby, is compared to the building.
  • Novelist James Phelan places his fictional Global Syndicate of Reporters (GSR) headquarters in the building. Phelan, once an architecture student at RMIT, cites Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson as two of his favorite designers. Several scenes of the second Lachlan Fox thriller, PATRIOT ACT, are set in The Four Seasons Restaurant.
  • The building was depicted as the headquarters of Fabian, a fictional publishing firm, in the movie The Best of Everything .
  • The building is seen toppled onto the Lever Housemarker in the film A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
  • Dan Cruickshank praises the building innovative design in 2005 travel documentary series by the BBC Around the World in 80 Treasures.

External links

View from front


  • Wolfe, Tom. From Bauhaus to Our House. Bantam Books, 1981.

Further reading

  • Dirk Stichweh: New York Skyscrapers. Prestel Publishing, Munich 2009, ISBN 3791340549


External links

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