The landmarked Seagram Building on Park Avenue between 52nd and 53rd streets is often loftily hailed as a precedent-setting structure for modern corporate architecture in New York City. Designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and ex-MoMA staffer and architect Philip Johnson, the building's particular conception and construction were largely driven by the idealistic, principled visions of then-twentysomething Phyllis Lambert, daughter of Seagram's founder Samuel Bronfman. Ahead of a new book she authored, "Building Seagram," which comes out on April 16, the Times interviewed Lambert about her role in Seagram's construction. Some quirkily awesome details came to light about the icon's history, and here are the six best.
6) When the building's initial plans were casually passed to Lambert for inspection (she was, at the time, working as a sculptor in Paris), she wrote a defiant seven-page letter to her father that began, "NO NO NO NO NO." Not long after, she took the reins as director of planning for the project. (Daughters have been winning over dads for all eternity, it seems.)
5) Among the architects that were rejected during the extensive selection process: Eero Saarinen, Marcel Breuer, Pietro Belluschi, Walter Gropius, Louis Kahn, Paul Rudolph, I. M. Pei, and Minoru Yamasaki. Funnily enough, Lambert and co. refused to even consider Frank Lloyd Wright, who had proposed a 100-story tower for the site?apparently, he was a diva to work with. Then finalist Le Corbusier was nixed. Ouch. And the minimalist Mies emerged victorious.
4) Lambert did not budge an inch from Mies's plans for a convention-shattering bronze-and-glass tower with luxurious finishes like marble, which they considered a sorely needed respite from the other modernist buildings of the era defined by concrete. The Times writes: "When a contractor tried to dissuade her from using an expensive brick bonding technique because it would be hidden from view, she channeled the aphoristic Mies, countering, 'God would know.'"
3) Set back from the traffic lanes on Park Avenue, the Seagram Building was one of the first to have a public plaza out front for pedestrians and office workers to gather and mingle. It was even the subject of a later sociological study (video clip here), "The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces."
2) Lambert went above and beyond to procure valuable and avant-garde art for the interior, commissioning Mark Rothko for a series of murals and attempting to win over Picasso and Brancusi during in-person meetings. Rothko backed out because he hated the idea of careless wealthy viewers who wouldn't appreciate his work; the masters of Cubism proved immovable. In the end, Lambert managed to get her way, purchasing Picasso's "Le Tricorne" from a dealer. It is still hung in Seagram's Four Seasons Restaurant, where the rich and powerful haggle and schmooze over lunch.
1) The cost of construction and an unwillingness to compromise led to a crazy-high price tag by 1950s standards: $36 million, plus more in taxes. Was it worth it?
· A Personal Stamp on the Skyline [NYT]
· Seagram Building coverage [Curbed]