During the mid 1950’s, the Joseph E. Seagram and Sons Corporation began planning the construction of its own building in anticipation of its hundredth anniversary. The Director of Planning, Phyllis Lambert, commissioned Mies van der Rohe with the task of designing a building that held architectural merit while at the same time adhering to the strict local zoning laws and the practicality of office/rental space. The resulting masterpiece, The Seagram Building, represents the quintessence of Mies’ direction in architecture in his appreciation for the simplicity of art as a result of technology, the free form plan of the architectural promenade, the relationship between interior and exterior elements, the manipulation of perception with various elements, and lastly, the attention given to classical traits.
One of the defining traits of Mies’ is his reasoning for architecture as a product of technology and structure, and this is overwhelming evident on the skeleton and skin exterior façade of The Seagram Building. Mies’ relished in the beauty of architecture developed from pure structural forms. Fritz Neumeyer puts this concept in an analogy in his book titled The Presence of Mies. “…one should not think of art in order to create art, because, as Mies stated, ‘Form is not the goal but the result of our work.’” The Seagram Building’s form did not result from a preconceived idea forced to reality, but it was the result of the bronze steel grid and the tinted windows. In addition, the I-beams running down the façade of The Seagram Building are another element that exemplifies Mies’ approval for structural beauty. They are shown in Figure 1 attached to the metal grid and slightly protruding out. They subtly represent classical pillars supporting the building as stated by Fritz Neumeyer:
“the I-beams that run down the façade lay ready, waiting simply to be recognized as the primary element by being brought forward to replace the subtly classical brick pillars…the I-beam was turned into the abstract pilaster of the machine age.”
The simplistic geometry that is also prevalent to Mies’ work is demonstrated in The Seagram Building by the every aspect of its “slab” like nature. Local zoning laws required buildings built in Midtown Manhattan to have setbacks in the building structure to minimize shadow. Mies opted to build a smaller but perfectly rectangular building with dimension of 5:3. Mies’ firmly believed that having such irregular patterns caused by setbacks did not relate to his architectural principles.
Not only was the physical façade of the building very typical of Mies, but the architectural promenade of the floor plan also bears resemblance to earlier completed works. His typical project does not structure movement through the building. In stead, it encourages a meandering type of movement that was also advocated by Le Corbusier in his “free plan.” This is evident in the Barcelona Pavilion where slits in walls allows for percolation through different segments of the house. In the case of the Crown Hall of the Illinois Institute of Technology, there is not even a single wall to suggest movement through the building. To a lesser extent, this is equally true for The Seagram Building. The expansive plaza in front of the building provides a wide area for people to freely move about. In fact, even the sidewalk area is incorporated into the plaza, further emphasizing the idea of free movement in not only the building area itself, but also in peripheral spaces as well. The entrance to The Seagram Building is also another hallmark of Mies van der Rohe in terms of architectural promenade. In many of his previous projects, the entrance to building is found by going through the sides. Similar, in The Seagram Building, the two main entrances are located behind the main slab and are beside the two flanking subsidiary buildings.
One of the elements of this architectural masterpiece that...
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