Seagram Building – Tourist Attractions in New York City
Seagram Building in NYC, New York, USA
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. 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 3.2 million pounds of bronze in its construction.
This edit could be considered subjective: It is an emerging opinion that, contrary to the text above, Mies Van de Rohe was in no way a structural expressionist, as evidenced by the Seagram building and others that he built. First off, there are no columns evident in the Seagram’s elevation. Now, you will note, the text above cites that Mies used bronze wide-flanges welded to the exterior to imply a structure. But consider this: these columns, whether real or not, do not run the full length of the elevation. In fact, beyond the level of the elevator lobby, the columns are pulled behind the curtain wall and not visible from the outside. More importantly, consider the corner detailing Mies used on Seagrams and many other buildings: the curtain wall is pulled away from the corner rather than butting up into an intersection at the column. Now while I structural expressionist would express this corner column by wrapping it and emphasizing it with the corner wall, Mies has effectively destroyed the column by making it a void. A true structural expressionist would cantilever off this corner column to equalize the loads and then express the columns in the front elevation. And finally, consider the shear wall on the “back” side of the building: Mies has built a shear wall to resist lateral loads, but has disguised it by using a marble that, under the right light, appears to be glass. Not only has he refused to express the structure, he has jumped through hoops to convince you that a shear wall, a structural element, is actually more glazing. Mies Van de Rohe in no way intended the structure to be the driving aesthetic for this, or any of his, work.
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 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.