In real estate and architecture, some dreams need a lot of staying power to get realized. The Seagram Building is the realization, some three decades late, of Mies van der Rohe's dream of a glass-covered, high-rise office tower that would provide a stunning monument to the International Style's faith in simplicity and clarity.
The Seagram building is the prime example of Mies' masterful use of steel. The bronze sheathed skyscraper soars thirty-eight stories high from its 90-foot deep pink granite plaza. Volume is everywhere apparent in this building, from the great columns that bring the structure to the ground to the welded bronze mullions holding the glass sheets in place. As enormous of a project this was, great attention was paid to purity and precision of design, following the fundamentals of the style. Details from doorknobs to stainless steel furniture throughout the building, spacious layout and functional use of all elements from interior office space to shower rooms, the Picasso backdrop signaling the entrance, the cantilevered portico entrance, and the luminous ceiling, make this one of the worlds most elegant skyscrapers. More importantly, pertaining to the International Style, Mies has expressed his elegant use of materials, and technological perfection throughout the building.
Mies' well known theory of "less is more" is apparent by the spaciousness and functional quality of the Seagram building; everything serves a purpose, either for aesthetic appeal or functionality. "Less is more" is a concept used throughout the architectural world today. "Mies van der Rohe stands as a great moral force of the International Style. The essence of architecture, to Mies, lies in the expression of structure. And his precise, sophisticated, and consistent style of architecture sets an example for architects preceding him and reaches the world over."
Its greatness lies in the tower's proportions, the fineness of its bronze and dark-tinted glass curtain walls, and its expansive front plaza.
Yet its much heralded plaza, which led the city to rewrite much of its office district zoning in 1961 to encourage similar open public spaces in new projects, is not really appropriate or necessary on as broad a landscaped boulevard as Park Avenue.
Although the plaza has no formal seating, its low, dark green, polished granite north and south walls are Park Avenue's most popular seating areas in good weather. The plaza has two rectangular reflecting pools at its north and south ends that are filled with forests of Christmas trees during the holiday seasons. For many years, a large Henry Moore sculpture was placed off-center in the plaza.
Credit for the Seagram's high quality goes to Phyllis Lambert, the daughter of Samuel Bronfman, the head of Seagram's. Bronfman had selected Charles Luckman to design his proposed tower at the site. Luckman, as chance had it, had been the chief executive officer of Lever Brothers before becoming a full-time architect. Lambert, who had studied architecture, convinced her father to switch architects and upgrade the project and recommended Mies van der Rohe, who was internationally recognized but without a signature building in New York.
With more than 800,000 square feet of office space, the Seagram Building is not petite. By setting back its tower, whose front facade rises without setbacks, so far on...