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Seagram Building

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Seagram Building
Seagram Building (35098307116).jpg
General information
Architectural styleInternational Style
Location375 Park Avenue
Manhattan, New York 10152
United States
Coordinates40°45′31″N 73°58′20″W / 40.75861°N 73.97222°W / 40.75861; -73.97222 (Seagram Building)Coordinates: 40°45′31″N 73°58′20″W / 40.75861°N 73.97222°W / 40.75861; -73.97222 (Seagram Building)
Completed1958; 63 years ago (1958)
OwnerAby Rosen
Roof516 ft (157 m)
Technical details
Floor count38
Floor area849,014 sq ft (78,876.0 m2)
Design and construction
ArchitectLudwig Mies van der Rohe; Philip Johnson
Structural engineerSeverud Associates
Seagram Building
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
NYC Landmark No. 1664, 1665, 1666
Location375 Park Ave., New York, New York
Coordinates40°45′30″N 73°58′21″W / 40.75833°N 73.97250°W / 40.75833; -73.97250 (Seagram Building)
Area1.4 acres (0.57 ha)
ArchitectLudwig Mies van der Rohe; Philip Johnson
Architectural styleInternational Style
NRHP reference No.06000056[1]
NYCL No.1664, 1665, 1666
Significant dates
Added to NRHPFebruary 24, 2006
Designated NYCLOctober 3, 1989[2][3]

The Seagram Building is a skyscraper at 375 Park Avenue, between 52nd and 53rd Streets, in the Midtown Manhattan neighborhood of New York City. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Philip Johnson, Ely Jacques Kahn, and designed the building, measuring 515 feet (157 m) tall with 38 stories and a public plaza, in the International Style. Completed in 1958, it initially served as the headquarters of the Seagram Company, a Canadian distiller.

Phyllis Lambert, daughter of Seagram CEO Samuel Bronfman, heavily influenced the Seagram Building's design. It is one of the most notable examples of the functionalist aesthetic and a prominent instance of corporate modern architecture. A glass curtain wall with vertical mullions of bronze and horizontal spandrels made of Muntz metal form the building's exterior. The pink granite plaza facing Park Avenue contains two fountains. Behind the plaza is a tall elevator lobby with a similar design to the plaza. The lowest stories originally contained the Four Seasons and Brasserie restaurants, which were replaced respectively by the Grill and Pool restaurant and the Lobster Club. The upper stories contain office spaces of modular construction.

Seagram revealed plans for the building in July 1954, when it announced construction of its headquarters on the up-and-coming commercial strip of Park Avenue. After Lambert objected to Pereira & Luckman's original design, Mies was selected as the architect that November. The building's Construction began in late 1955 and finished in 1958, although the official certificate of occupancy was not granted until 1959. The Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America purchased the building in 1979, but it remained Seagram's headquarters until 2001. Since 2000, Aby Rosen's RFR Holding LLC has owned the Seagram Building.

Upon opening, the Seagram Building was widely praised for its design, and became known as an unofficial landmark. Its design was copied for other structures worldwide. Within New York City, the Seagram Building helped influence the , which provided developers with a zoning "bonus" for including plazas outside their buildings. In 1989, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the Seagram Building's exterior, lobby, and The Four Seasons Restaurant as official city landmarks. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.


The Seagram Building is at 375 Park Avenue, on the eastern sidewalk between 52nd and 53rd Streets, in the Midtown Manhattan neighborhood of New York City.[4][5] The land lot has a frontage of 295 feet (90 m) on 52nd Street to the south, 200 feet (61 m) on Park Avenue to the west, and 302 feet (92 m) on 53rd Street to the north.[5][6] The eastern portion of the site is lower than the western portion.[5][7] The 53rd Street side contains an alley about 7 feet (2.1 m) wide, facing 100 East 53rd Street; the alley allows the Seagram Building to remain symmetrical despite the site's irregular shape.[8] Other nearby buildings include 345 Park Avenue across 52nd Street to the south; 399 Park Avenue across 53rd Street to the north; Lever House diagonally across Park Avenue and 53rd Street; and the Racquet and Tennis Club across Park Avenue to the west.[4] In addition, 599 Lexington Avenue and Citigroup Center, as well as the New York City Subway's Lexington Avenue/51st Street station (served by the 6, <6>​​, E, and ​M trains), are on Lexington Avenue less than one block to the east.[4][9]

During the late 19th century, the Seagram Building's site had included a Steinway & Sons piano factory and brick or brownstone tenements.[10] The Park Avenue railroad line ran in an open-cut in the middle of Park Avenue; construction of Grand Central Terminal in the early 20th century covered the line, spurring development in the surrounding area, Terminal City.[11][12] The adjacent stretch of Park Avenue became a wealthy neighborhood with upscale apartments, including the Montana Apartments, on the site of the piano factory.[10] Largely commercial International Style skyscrapers replaced many of the residential structures on Park Avenue during the 1950s and 1960s.[13][14] When the Seagram site was assembled in the early 1950s, it contained the Montana Apartments and four smaller row houses and apartment buildings.[15][16][17]


German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed the Seagram Building in the International style, with Philip Johnson as co-architect and the partnership of Ely Jacques Kahn and as associate architects.[18] Numerous consultants were involved in the building's design, including mechanical engineers Jaros, Baum & Bolles; structural engineers Severud-Elstad Krueger; electrical engineer Clifton E. Smith; lighting consultant Richard Kelly; acoustics consultant Bolt-Beranek & Newman; graphics consultant Elaine Lustig; and landscape architects Charles Middeleer and Karl Linn.[17][19][20] The Seagram Building was never officially named for its original anchor tenant, Canadian conglomerate Seagram, and is legally known as 375 Park Avenue.[21]

Phyllis Lambert, a Bronfman family member and the daughter of Seagram CEO Samuel Bronfman, whose idea it was to develop the building, gave Mies an unlimited budget.[22][23] Lambert said the Seagram Building was supposed to "be the crowning glory of everyone's work, his own, the contractor's, and Mies's".[24] The architects used new or redesigned materials if they believed these innovations provided an improvement over existing products.[25] The design used costly, high-quality materials, including bronze, travertine, and marble.[23][26] The lavish interior, overseen by Johnson, was designed to ensure cohesion with the appearance of the facade.[27] The Seagram Building was the first office building in the world to use extruded bronze on a facade,[28][29] as well as the first New York City skyscraper with full-height plate glass windows.[30][31]


The Seagram Building occupies half the site[17] and is recessed 90 feet (27 m) behind Park Avenue.[32][33][34][a] The building's main section is a 38-story slab topped by a mechanical story; it does not include any setbacks.[36] The slab rises 515 feet (157 m) above ground.[37][38][b] As planned, the slab measured 95 by 145 feet (29 by 44 m).[40] A "spine" with a fire stair rises along the entire eastern end of the slab.[39]

There are two five-story wings east of the main slab, facing 52nd and 53rd Streets, as well as a 10-story "bustle" between the two five-story wings.[36][41] As planned, the "bustle" measured 90 by 85 feet (27 by 26 m) while the wings measured 90 by 200 feet (27 by 61 m).[40] The April 1955 edition of Architectural Forum magazine described the relative simplicity of the building's massing as "a no-setback building but a building all set back".[19]


See caption
Plaza as seen from Park Avenue, looking southeast

A pink granite plaza with pools and greenery lies on the western side of the Seagram Building.[32] The plaza is raised slightly above sidewalk level on Park Avenue, with three steps leading from the center of the Park Avenue frontage. A low granite retaining wall runs on either side of the flight of steps, extending around to 52nd and 53rd Streets, where they flank the building.[42] There are marble caps atop the retaining walls on the side streets. At the eastern ends of the side-street, retaining walls are granite steps from street to lobby, above which are travertine canopies.[5] The parapets on the side streets are each 3.75 feet (1.14 m) wide by 180 feet (55 m) long and made of forty pieces of green Italian marble.[43]

The plaza is largely symmetrical with rectangular pools placed on the northwest and southwest corners. The southern pool contains a bronze flagpole, the only deviation from the design's symmetry. The water level of the pools is just below that of the plaza.[42] The cluster of fountain jets at the center of either pool is not part of the original design.[5][44] The pools measure 46 feet (14 m) wide by 70 feet (21 m) long and each contain 60,000 U.S. gallons (230,000 l; 50,000 imp gal) of water recirculated every two-and-a-half hours.[43] The initial plan had been to place abstract sculptures in the plaza. Mies abandoned this when he could not find a sculptor he felt could produce work suited for the landscape.[45] East of both pools are three planting beds with ivy and a gingko tree.[5] These planting beds had contained weeping beeches before November 1959, when they were replaced with hardier gingko trees.[46][47] The plaza contains a heating system to prevent ice buildup.[17][48] At the building's completion, the plaza's surface required daily vacuuming with a sweeper.[49]

From its construction, the plaza was intended not only as an urban green space but as a point of interest.[34] Architecture critic Lewis Mumford said of the plaza: "In a few steps one is lifted out of the street so completely that one has almost the illusion of having climbed a long flight of stairs."[7] In its simplicity, the plaza's design was a marked contrast to the Channel Gardens in front of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, which architectural writer Robert A. M. Stern describes as being known for its festiveness.[33]


See caption
Looking from Park Avenue into the lobby at night

The northern, southern, and western ends of the slab overhang the plaza and are supported by bronze-clad columns at their perimeters forming an arcade in front of the entrance.[5][50] The arcade's ceiling contains recessed light fixtures within a ceramic tile surface.[5] The first-story walls behind the arcade contain full-height glass panes. Above the arcade, on the western side of the building, is a marquee made of Muntz metal, with recessed lighting.[36] The bases of the wings on 52nd and 53rd Streets, beneath the first story, are clad in granite and contain entrances to the restaurant and bar spaces inside.[39] The eastern portions of the 52nd and 53rd Street wings contain garage doors, while the eastern wall of the 53rd Street wing is faced in brick.[8] The eastern section of the 52nd Street wing has an entrance that leads to the Grill and Pool restaurant while bypassing the main lobby.[51] A similar entrance exists on the 53rd Street wing to the Brasserie restaurant.[52]

The curtain wall begins above the lobby;[53] above the arcades and lower stories, it is composed of non-structural glass walls, designed to be heat- and glare-resistant.[25][54] There are about 122,000 square feet (11,300 m2) of glass panels.[55][56] Because the windows are sealed permanently, and the tower rises with no setbacks, the Seagram Building's window washing team could not use standard window-washing equipment. Therefore, a custom-made pneumatic scaffold was installed, with a 27-foot-wide (8.2 m) deck that covers six columns of windows at a time.[57] Behind each window, Mies sought to avoid irregularity when window blinds were drawn. As a result, the building uses window blinds with slats angled in 45-degree positions, allowing the blinds to be set in three positions: fully open, halfway open, or fully closed.[58][59][60]

See caption
The main slab viewed from across Park Avenue and 52nd Street

The facade used 1,500 metric tons (1,500 long tons; 1,700 short tons) of bronze,[61] manufactured by General Bronze.[62][63][64] The glass panes are set within vertical bronze mullions made from 4.5-by-6-inch (110 by 150 mm) extrusions of I-beams.[25][36][54] The bronze mullions are arranged in 30-foot-wide (9.1 m) bays, with five columns of windows in each bay.[41] Unlike Lever House's mullions, which General Bronze also manufactured, the Seagram Building's mullions are only for aesthetics and are thus susceptible to thermal expansion or contraction.[65] At the building's completion, General Bronze said the facade would need to be cleaned twice a year with soap, water, and lemon oil to prevent discoloration;[66] this work could be performed using the custom window-washing scaffold.[49] Spandrels, made of Muntz metal, separate the windows on each story horizontally, which gives them an appearance similar to that of copper.[25][36] A sample facade section, tested in a wind tunnel in 1956, was resistant to winds of up to 100 miles per hour (160 km/h).[56]

The design of the slab's facade is carried onto the wings and "bustle".[36] The "spine" on the eastern side of the slab is clad with serpentine marble panels instead of glass because of the presence of shear walls made from concrete.[39] The curtain-wall facade cost $18 per square foot ($190/m2), equivalent to $125 per square foot ($1,350/m2) in 2019.[25] Above the 38th story is a triple-height mechanical story with a louvered screen.[39]


The superstructure is a steel frame covered with concrete and gypsum.[67] At the time, 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.[68] The concrete core shear walls extend up to the 17th floor and diagonal core bracing (shear trusses) extends to the 29th floor.[69] The structural system is composed of steel columns whose centers are 27.75 feet (8.46 m) apart.[55] The building's heating and air conditioning systems are divided into two sections: a basement unit serving the 20th story and all floors below, and a roof unit serving the 21st story and all floors above.[70] Ducts for utilities such as electric, telephone, and CCTV cables were embedded into the concrete floor slabs.[67] According to the New York City Department of City Planning, the building has 849,014 square feet (78,876.0 m2) of interior floor space.[4]

The building was home to The Four Seasons and Brasserie restaurants originally designed by Philip Johnson.[71] The restaurant interiors were decorated with numerous artworks, including the Seagram murals by Mark Rothko, which he claimed were intended to sicken the patrons of the Four Seasons Restaurant.[72] [c] By 2017, the building housed three restaurants owned by Major Food Group: the Pool, the Grill, and the Lobster Club.[73] The Pool was merged with the Grill in 2020, though a separate event space called the Pool Lounge continues to operate.[74]

The Seagram Building contains three basement stories.[75] Two of them originally contained a 150-space parking garage,[76][77] connected to the lobby via its own elevator.[76] As of 2020, the garage was being renovated into a 35,000-square-foot (3,300 m2) gym.[78] The basements also contain storage, loading platforms, and service areas for the occupants of the first floor.[44]


See caption
View of the lobby's floor plan

Unlike more traditional designs in Beaux-Arts office buildings, the Seagram Building's lobby lacks a central space, instead leading visitors directly from the plaza to the elevators or restaurants.[79] The lobby, designed as if it were an extension of the plaza,[25][80] is divided into three parts: a western section facing the plaza; a central section with elevators; and an eastern section facing the restaurant space.[81] Mumford wrote, "outside and inside are simply the same""[7][82]

The western part of the lobby has three bronze revolving doors and is interrupted by two bronze columns.[83] The central section comprises three corridors connecting the western and eastern thirds of the lobby, within four elevator and stair enclosures,[83] whose walls are clad with travertine.[25][32] There are three elevators on each corridor's north and south walls— a total of eighteen elevators.[83] The northernmost and southernmost enclosures have fire stairs exiting to the plaza, and all enclosures have mechanical spaces and service closets.[84] The interiors of the elevator cabs contain stainless steel and bronze mesh panels, while the ceilings contain white panels that illuminate each cab.[60][85][86] Above the elevator doors are fluorescent lights installed in the doorway soffits. The central third of the lobby contains mailboxes, a standpipe alarm box, and service doors made of bronze.[85]

The eastern section has two additional revolving doors within the northern and southern glass walls.[83] There are service doors on the eastern wall of this section, as well as an elevator control panel, a fire station panel, and directories on the western wall.[85] From the eastern section of the lobby, a set of travertine steps connects to the restaurant spaces that originally comprised the Four Seasons Restaurant.[84][87]

Throughout the entire lobby, the 24-foot (7.3 m)-tall ceiling is made of black cement and 1-by-1-inch (25 mm × 25 mm) gray glass mosaic tiles.[32][81][88] Recessed within the lobby ceiling are lights with dimmers.[84][88] The floors, walls, and columns are also clad with travertine.[88] The exterior walls of the lobby contain bronze mullions within which the exterior glass panes are set. A horizontal bronze bar, about 42 inches (110 cm) above the floor level, surrounds the exterior walls.[81] The horizontal bronze bar was installed in the 1970s per New York state building regulations.[79] Signs in the lobby were originally designed in a square serif font custom-made for the Seagram Building.[79]

The Grill and Pool[]

An overview photograph of the Four Seasons Restaurant room with the trees and the pool
The Pool

The Grill and Pool (formerly the Four Seasons Restaurant) are within the first and second floors of the Seagram Building's "bustle", east of the lobby and main shaft.[89] When they opened as separate restaurants in 2017, the Grill served mid-20th-century cuisine while the Pool largely served seafood.[90][91] The Grill and Pool, named after the rooms of the same name in the former Four Seasons, contains similar design features to the lobby, with travertine walls and floors; cement ceilings with gray-glass mosaic tiles; and bronze engaged piers.[87] The original Four Seasons had five dining rooms, preserved in the modern-day Grill and Pool restaurant.[92][93][d] The Pool is on the north side of the first floor; the Grill is on the south side. The three additional dining rooms are two dining areas on a balcony above the Grill, as well as a balcony above the Pool.[95] Below the Grill is a separate entrance lobby and foyer on 52nd Street, connected to the Grill Room via staircase.[51]

The Grill and Pool are discrete 60-by-90-foot (18 by 27 m) rooms.[94] Both major rooms and their auxiliary spaces have 20-foot-high (6.1 m) ceilings with gridded off-white aluminum panels and recessed lighting. The outer walls are glass curtain walls, containing metal curtains that rippled from air released by hidden ventilating ducts.[96] Running north-south between them is a corridor, which is at the top of the stairs leading from the eastern lobby. A glass wall and bronze double doors separate the corridor from the main lobby.[95] The corridor's north and south walls contain doors leading to vestibules outside either room.[97] The Pool is centered around a 20-by-20-foot (6.1 by 6.1 m) white marble pool.[98] On the eastern side of the Pool, a staircase connects to a mezzanine on a podium slightly above the main floor.[93][99] The Grill had a lounge in its northwest corner and a bar at its southwest corner.[100] The two private dining rooms are on a balcony raised above the main Grill, accessed by separate staircases and separated from the main Grill by walnut paneled doors.[101]

The Lobster Club[]

The Lobster Club is at ground level on 53rd Street, immediately below the Pool room, within the space formerly occupied by Brasserie. It serves Japanese seafood.[102][103][104] Philip Johnson had designed the original interior. Diller + Scofidio redesigned it from 1995 to 1999 after a fire damaged it.[71][105][106] After a 2017 renovation, the Lobster Club contains a design by Peter Marino.[102][103][104]

The entrance connects to a lobby with restrooms to the east, a coat check to the west, and the dining room to the south. The main dining room is slightly above the 53rd Street lobby, reached by a set of stairs.[52] The lobby is on the north wall of the main dining room, while kitchens and waiters' stations are on the south wall. A second dining room is reached through a doorway at the center of the west wall. A door on the south wall leads to a fire stair to the lobby.[86] The Lobster Club's main dining room has brightly colored furniture and upholstery; 150 drip-painted concrete floor tiles by artist Laura Bergman; and three bronze-partitioned booths on the south wall. There is a bar on the eastern side of the dining room.[102][104] The second dining room is a private dining room with white partition walls, red terrazzo flooring, and metal sculptures.[102][103][104]

When used by Brasserie, the foyer had contained a stone wall, and a video camera displayed images of patrons entering from the street, with an LCD sign announcing every customer's entry.[107] The main dining room had plywood panels on its walls.[107][108] The west wall contained a bar on its northern section and a dining alcove on its southern section. The bar, alcove, and second dining room had carpeted floors; the main dining room had wooden floors. The ceiling was made of flat plaster with recessed lighting fixtures.[108] The Brasserie could seat 150 patrons.[94]

Office stories[]

The office stories were intended to contain executive suites.[88] The office suites generally have a flexible plan, arranged in modules around the elevator core.[86] The flexibility of the office stories derives from the superstructures' wide bays.[109] In general, each of the second through fourth stories has about 28,000 square feet (2,600 m2) of rentable office space; the fifth through tenth stories, around 18,600 square feet (1,730 m2); and the upper stories, around 12,000 square feet (1,100 m2).[109][110][e] Johnson mainly oversaw the interior design;[27] all the materials were custom-designed for the Seagram Building.[111]

The elevator landings have green terrazzo floors, travertine walls, gray elevator-door surrounds, and gypsum ceilings.[86] The remaining office stories used 4.625-foot-square (1.410 m) modules designed by the Hauserman company.[112] The elevator doors, suite doors, and partitions were designed to rise from floor to ceiling, which made the openings appear as though they were part of the paneling. Partition panels were designed with washable materials, which became standard after they were used in the Seagram Building.[60][112] Doorknobs were made of lever handles instead of round knobs.[113] The ceilings are acoustically tiled dropped ceilings.[86] Each ceiling is surrounded by luminous tiled panels, activated by a timer,[114] which are arranged in a consistent band measuring about 11.5 feet (3.5 m) wide.[115] The rest of each story uses indirect lighting.[115] Air conditioning fixtures are placed under the windows, 11 inches (280 mm) above the floor slab, enabling the windows to be full-height glass walls.[112][116]

The Seagram Company occupied eight floors when the building was completed.[117] Architectural Forum described Seagram's offices as setting "a high standard" for subsequent tenants.[88] The offices had a reception room, containing tapestries and a travertine wall with Seagram's seal; an executive office with furniture designed by Mies; and a conference room with oak paneling.[88] Floor-to-ceiling travertine partitions walled off the restrooms in the Seagram suites.[60] Another feature of the Seagram suites was display lights which could retract into the ceiling when they were not being used.[115]


Following the 1933 repeal of Prohibition in the United States, Seagram Distiller's CEO Samuel Bronfman was planning a large Manhattan headquarters.[19][118] Bronfman decided the headquarters should be situated somewhere on Park Avenue between 50th and 59th Streets, which was becoming a commercial area.[119] In 1951, the company bought a 50,950-square-foot (4,733 m2) lot on the eastern side of Park Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Street, across from Lever House, for $4 million (equivalent to $32 million in 2019[f]).[15][120] Bronfman sought to develop a structure that would be considered an "important building".[28] According to Philip Johnson, the earlier Lever House had set an example for the construction of what became the Seagram Building.[121]



In July 1954, Seagram announced it would build a 34-story tower, designed by William Pereira and Charles Luckman of Pereira & Luckman, for $15 million (equivalent to $116 million in 2019[f]).[122][123] That firm had been chosen on the strength of Lever House's design. Luckman, who had overseen that building's development while serving as president of Lever Brothers soap company, said he was happy to come back for a "repeat performance".[15][124] Seagram's building, as originally planned, would have contained a four-story base of marble and bronze topped by a 30-story metal-and-glass shaft.[122][125][126] The design would have provided for an auditorium, film screening room, display rooms, and executive offices,[122][125] as well as interior garden courts.[122] Pereira & Luckman filed plans for the tower with the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) the same month.[127] The building was projected to be complete in 1957 for the 100th anniversary of Seagram's founding.[123]

Pereira & Luckman's design attracted negative criticism when it was announced. According to the August 1954 edition of Architectural Forum, critics likened the building's appearance to an "enormous cigarette lighter" and "big trophy".[128][129] Bronfman's 27-year-old daughter, Phyllis Lambert, was living in Paris when she saw a rendering of Pereira & Luckman's plan in the New York Herald Tribune's Paris edition.[15][19] Recounting the incident, Lambert said she had been "boiling with fury" at the proposal.[15][130] Lambert wrote a letter to her father that August, arguing that any new headquarters should be a "contribution" to the city in addition to serving as a symbol of Seagram.[131] In a 2013 book recalling the building's development, Lambert wrote, "This letter starts with one word repeated very emphatically [...] NO NO NO NO NO."[72]

Bronfman relented, allowing his daughter to find an alternate architect.[129] Pereira & Luckman's design was still publicly marketed as a "preliminary model", but as Interiors magazine's managing editor Olga Gueft said, media reports suggested the original plan "had been dumped overboard".[15][132] Lambert became acquainted with Johnson, then the departmental director of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art. Following his recommendation, Lambert examined several leading Modernist architects and conducted several interviews.[133][g] Mies van der Rohe was selected to design the building in November 1954.[6][131] Bronfman, having approved Mies's selection, designated his daughter as the building's planning director.[120] Lambert received a $20,000 salary from this position.[72] Because Mies was not a licensed architect in New York state, Johnson was selected as co-architect and Kahn & Jacobs as associate architects.[33]

Mies, who had never designed a project in New York City, wished to design a simple slab, being dissatisfied by the setback required under the then-current 1916 Zoning Resolution.[19][33][26] Mies considered three alternatives for a slab behind a large plaza, with a facade divided into multiple bays. One plan called for a square tower; the second plan called for a 3-by-7-bay rectangle with three bays on Park Avenue; and the third plan called for a 5-by-3-bay rectangle with five bays facing Park Avenue. He created several scale models for the proposed structure.[134] Ultimately, Mies selected the 5-by-3-bay rectangle, which received Lambert's praise.[33][133] Some time after the architects had been selected, Seagram purchased some 9,000 square feet (840 m2) of adjacent land for $900,000 (equivalent to $7 million in 2019[f]).[119]


Photograph of the Seagram Building from Park Avenue
Seen from across Park Avenue

Mies's updated plans were filed with the DOB in March 1955; the updated structure was slated to cost $20 million (equivalent to $152 million in 2019[f]).[16][33][40] The DOB records listed Mies's plans as a modification to Pereira & Luckman's original plans, rather than completely new ones.[135] At the time, 20 of 250 existing tenants on the site had already left.[16][33] The April 1955 issue of The New York Times described the proposed tower as one of several on Park Avenue that "add up in sum to a boom".[136] By mid-1955, the architects had specified the tower would be made of bronze and glass.[33] Demolition of existing buildings on the site began in late 1955[137][138] and was completed in March 1956.[17]

Construction of the superstructure began in May 1956, with the first major steel column installed at the beginning of June 1956.[139] 700 workers fitted over 5,000 individual pieces of steelwork together, which weighed in aggregate 25 million pounds (11 kt).[140] Because of a no-standing rule implemented in Midtown Manhattan, some truckers were ticketed while delivering steel beams to the work site, prompting them to strike temporarily until the rule was changed to allow deliveries.[141][142][143] The steelwork's construction involved bolting steel beams, rather than riveting them, to reduce noise; this work received an official "Quiet City Award" from the city.[140] During construction, Lambert convinced the builders to carry through Mies's original design, including minor details such as the brick bonding, which was hidden from view.[72] The superstructure was topped out during December 1956.[140][144] The building's bronze and glass facade was installed starting in September 1956; that work was completed in April 1957.[145]

The Seagram Company moved into its offices in December 1957,[146] and the Department of Buildings granted a temporary certificate of occupancy during 1958.[147] The Seagram Building officially opened on May 22, 1958. The Seagram Company occupied some of the office space and leased the remainder.[146] The Department of Buildings granted the permanent occupancy certificate in 1959.[147] Including the $5 million land purchases, the project was expected to cost $43 million, or about $50 per square foot ($540/m2).[148] The construction cost per square foot was about twice that of similar buildings in the city.[55][148] However, Seagram vice president Arthur S. Margolin said in a 1989 interview that the cost had been approximately $40 million.[75]

20th century[]

Seagram ownership[]

See caption
52nd Street entrance to the Four Seasons, which occupied the first floor shortly after the building's opening

By July 1958, the Seagram Building was already 90 percent rented. Tenants were willing to pay $7 to $8.30 per square foot ($75.3 to $89.3/m2) for space on the upper floors, compared to an average of about $5 to $5.25 per square foot ($53.8 to $56.5/m2) for ordinary new buildings.[110] In its first year, the Seagram Building's office space was expected to earn about a 13 percent return on investment.[147][149] Cushman & Wakefield were hired as rental agents.[19] Among the initial occupants were "a number of industrial and service corporations" involved in manufacturing,[150] as well as Bethlehem Steel[151] and Maruzen Oil.[152] The building also housed Goodson-Todman Productions;[153] the sales headquarters of Eagle Pencil;[154] an industrial designer;[155] a property manager; an art producer;[156] a direct-mail advertising company;[157] and various other commercial tenants.[158] Restaurant Associates took ground-level space for the Four Seasons and Brasserie restaurants, which opened in 1959.[93] Ultimately, the Seagram Building's luxuriously designed spaces had 115 tenants, which were drawn partly because of Mies's international stature.[159] By 1961, there was a waiting list for space in the Seagram Building.[160]

In its early years, the Seagram Building and its plaza were used for displays and exhibitions. For instance, in 1958, the building held an art show to celebrate the 13th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations.[161][162] A sculptured head from the Mesoamerican Olmec civilization was displayed in the plaza in 1965.[163] The World Monuments Fund displayed a moai head in the Seagram Building's plaza in 1968[164][165] to draw attention to the artifacts on Easter Island, which were seen as endangered.[165][166][167] Atmospheres and Environment XII, an environmental steel sculpture by Louise Nevelson, was installed at the Seagram Building's plaza in 1971.[168] Other sculptures or artworks erected in the Seagram Building and plaza included Barnett Newman's sculpture Broken Obelisk, displayed in 1967, as well as Jean Dubuffet's sculpture Milord la Chimarre, displayed in 1974.[167]

In 1963, the New York City government gave the Seagram Company an award for the building's "notable contribution" to the city and raised the company's property taxes.[169] The recalculated tax assessment of $21 million was based on the potential value if the building were to be demolished, whereas Seagram fought to keep the assessment at $17 million, based on the rental income it earned.[170][171][172] The higher tax assessment was upheld by the New York Court of Appeals,[173] a decision the Regional Plan Association criticized as potentially destroying "the hope of great commercial architecture in New York State".[174][175] Architectural writer Ada Louise Huxtable called the tax a beginning of the city's "architectural annihilation". She believed the higher tax assessment was a "special method of taxing architectural excellence".[175][176]

There was still high demand for office space in Midtown, despite a myriad of new development in the area. For example, when real estate investment firm Realty Equities moved its headquarters to the Seagram Building in 1968, another company immediately offered to sublet Realty's space at a much higher price.[177] Even the Seagram Company found its own headquarters' rent to be too high, giving up half of its 150,000 square feet (14,000 m2) in the building and moving approximately 600 of its 983 employees elsewhere in 1972.[178][179][180] In a letter to Mayor John Lindsay, Seagram officials attributed the relocation in part because of the high tax assessment on the Seagram Building.[170][178] In 1971, building management conducted what city officials believed was the first voluntary fire drill at a New York City office building.[181][182]


See caption
Colorized view of the building from the Library of Congress's collection

During the 1970s, Seagram received several offers for the building from potential buyers, and the company contemplated selling it and leasing back its own space.[111] However, Seagram had decided to retain ownership of the building by 1976, as it brought publicity to the company.[111][183] The same year, Seagram's president Edgar Bronfman Sr., Samuel Bronfman's son, asked the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to grant city-landmark status to the building.[111][170][184] The move surprised mayor Abraham Beame, since the city's landlords typically attempted to prevent their buildings from being listed as landmarks.[111] The LPC ultimately did not hold a hearing for the Seagram Building. LPC rules specified that individual New York City landmarks be at least 30 years old at the time of their designation; the building had been completed only 18 years earlier.[175][185] Bronfman proposed that the LPC grant buildings less than 30 years old a waiver if property owners supported landmark designation, but the city took no action on the proposal.[185][186]

In February 1979, Seagram offered the tower for sale at $75 million. In the absence of official landmark status, the company mandated the new owner preserve the exterior and public spaces in their original condition. The new owner was obligated to keep the building for at least fifteen years, and would have to take over the high land-assessment taxes.[187] Seagram sold the building to the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association (TIAA) for $85.5 million in June 1979, leasing some space back from them.[185][186][188] This fee included $70.5 million for the structure and $15 million for the underlying land.[189] As part of the sale, the building's "Seagram" name was retained even though the building was only identified on signage by its address.[186] Furthermore, the TIAA could not use the "Seagram" name in advertising the building.[190] For decades after the sale, Phyllis Lambert continued to be involved with the Seagram Building's operation.[72]

The TIAA, like the Seagram Company, supported landmark status for the building. In early 1988, just over thirty years after the Seagram Building had been completed, the TIAA filed documentation with the LPC requesting that the Seagram Building's exterior, lobby and plaza be considered for landmark status.[189][3][191] The Four Seasons' operators also separately endorsed landmark designation for their restaurant's interior in the Seagram Building.[191][192] On October 3, 1989, the Seagram Building's exterior was designated as a landmark, while the lobby and The Four Seasons Restaurant were designated as interior landmarks. The Four Seasons was only the second restaurant interior in the city to be designated a landmark, after Gage and Tollner in Brooklyn.[2][3] While the TIAA had no issue with the exterior and lobby landmark designations, it sued the LPC in 1990 to have the designation for the Four Seasons removed, on the basis the restaurant was personal property.[193] The state's Court of Appeals upheld the designation in 1993.[194] The Brasserie, not covered in any of the landmark designations, was renovated in 1999 after being damaged by a fire in 1995.[105][106]

21st century[]

Real estate investor Aby Rosen entered into a contract in October 2000 to purchase the building for $375 million;[23][195] he completed his purchase that December.[196] The building was 99.5 percent occupied, but only six original tenants remained.[196] The following year, the Seagram Company moved its headquarters out of the building.[175] The Seagram Building continued to be held by Rosen's RFR Holding,[197] which was still restricted from advertising the building with the "Seagram" name.[190] Meanwhile, French media conglomerate Vivendi, which acquired the Seagram Company in 2000, started selling off the building's art in 2003 to raise money.[198][199] RFR received the LPC's permission in 2005 to transfer unused development rights at the Seagram Building site to a neighboring building. In exchange, the Seagram Building's owners would be required to keep the facade in near-original condition.[200] The Seagram Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on February 24, 2006.[1]

RFR did not have full ownership of the Seagram Building until 2013, when it purchased a 14 percent stake from Harry Lis.[201][202] In 2015, the Four Seasons' and the Brasserie's leases were not renewed after RFR decided to terminate them early. The restaurants were closed.[71][203] RFR proposed changes to the Four Seasons' interior, including removing the glass wall between the Grill Room and Pool Room, as well as converting the wine cellar to restrooms.[204] The LPC rejected RFR's proposal to change the interior of The Four Seasons Restaurant, except for a carpet replacement, which the commission allowed.[205] Annabelle Selldorf restored the physical structure while William Georgis oversaw the interior design.[90] The Grill and the Pool were opened within the former Four Seasons space in mid-2017.[206] That year, architect Peter Marino designed the Lobster Club within the former Brasserie space in the basement.[102][103][104] In addition, the facade was restored in 2016, and RFR spent $400,000 to install waterproofing on the fountains and $250,000 to renovate the plaza benches. RFR was also planning to change the underground garage, which did not have landmark status.[207]

Initially, RFR did not seek the LPC's permission to change the landmark-designated Four Seasons interior, only requesting permission in late 2017 after the renovations were completed.[208][209] The LPC retroactively approved the renovations nearly two years later, with some modifications.[210] Accordingly, in December 2019, the Pool's lounge room was temporarily closed for a one-month renovation to bring it into compliance with the plans approved by the LPC.[211][212] The next month, the Grill took over the Pool because of higher demand for cuisine in the Grill.[74] Rosen announced in mid-2020 that he would renovate the garage into the "Seagram Playground", a communal workers' space and gym, over the following one and a half years.[78][213] The communal space was announced as a way to attract tenants in light of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City, as well as the departure of Wells Fargo, a major tenant.[214]


Critical reception[]

See caption
The building as seen from the ground on 53rd Street

When the Seagram Building was completed, Lewis Mumford described the structure as a "Rolls-Royce" of buildings[215][216] and wrote "it has the aesthetic impact that only a unified work of art carried through without paltry compromises can have".[41][215] In 1957, Thomas W. Ennis of The New York Times wrote the building was "one of the most notable of Manhattan's post-war buildings" and characterized its design as the "apex" of Mies's career.[30][117] Similarly, Progressive Architecture magazine described the Seagram Building as "probably the most heralded new building in the U.S." in 1958.[217] According to Architectural Forum magazine in 1958, "Seagram challenges accepted skyscraper practice all the way down the line."[215][218] At a meeting of the Italian Cultural Institute the following year, architect Gino Pollini said the Seagram Building was "a masterpiece of functional and esthetic architecture".[219]

Critical acclaim for the Seagram Building continued through later years. In 1966, after the building had been open eight years, Ada Louise Huxtable wrote the building was "dignified, sumptuous, severe, sophisticated, cool, consummately elegant architecture".[220] In 1975, The New York Times Magazine described the lobby as one of "The Ten Best Lobbies in New York".[221] In 1981, architectural writer G. E. Kidder Smith found the building and its features to be "in toto incomparable".[222] According to Jerold Kayden, who wrote about the building in 2000, the Seagram Building "remains the city's quintessential International Style masterpiece of 'tower in the park' architecture".[223][224] Ricardo Scofidio of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, said the construction of the Seagram Building "was the first time you really realized that architecture brought something to the city that didn't exist".[72]

While the public and architectural critics generally appreciated the Seagram Building, there were also comments about the design's drawbacks. Robert A. M. Stern stated that there were negative remarks about the plaza's "austerity" and the exterior's lack of purity.[33] Stern cited architect Louis Kahn, who believed the rear "spine" took away from the purity of the slab, though Kahn also said the hidden wind bracing made the building appear like "a beautiful bronze lady in hidden corsets".[33][225] While Mumford largely praised the design, he found the plaza's pools and fountains to be a "gross defect" in what was otherwise a "masterpiece".[47] Italian architecture writers Manfredo Tafuri and Francesco Dal Co, in their 1976 book Modern Architecture, wrote that the Seagram Building stood "aloof from the city" and saw the juxtaposition as a symbol of absence.[226][227]

Architectural recognition[]

The Seagram Building has received both praise and awards. The Fifth Avenue Association awarded it the accolade of being the best building constructed on Park Avenue between 1956 and 1957.[228] The city government gave the Seagram Company an award in 1963 for the building's positive impact on the city's beauty.[169] The Board of Trade awarded its 1965 architecture prize to the building, citing its plaza, form, and material.[229][230] The following year, the Municipal Art Society (MAS) gave a bronze plaque to the building, recognizing it as a "modern landmark".[229][231] Philip Johnson received the city's Bronze Medallion for the Seagram Building's design in 1979. Simultaneously, the American Institute of Architects (AIA)'s New York chapter gave the Seagram Company a special citation recognizing the company's "most elegant contribution to the art of architecture and the care with which it is maintained".[232] The AIA further recognized the Seagram Building in 1984 with a Twenty-five Year Award for its "ability to stand to the test of time".[233]

Design influence[]

The Seagram Building's plaza was popular immediately when the building opened, being frequented by both office workers and tourists.[35] In 1971, the plaza was the setting of a planning study by sociologist William H. Whyte, whose film Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, produced with the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS), records the daily patterns of people socializing around the plaza.[167][234] Whyte praised the plaza as allowing a sense of choice, in that patrons could lie down or sit on the ledges or steps, despite their relatively plain design.[234][235]

The plaza's presence helped influence the ,[28][111] which allowed New York City developers a zoning "bonus" for including open space in front of their buildings. This was in sharp contrast to the "wedding cake" model of the 1916 Zoning Resolution, which had required setbacks at intervals of several stories, similar to a wedding cake.[236][237] Even before the 1961 zoning code had even been implemented, some New York City buildings followed the Seagram's model of a slab behind a plaza, like the Time/Life Building at 1271 Avenue of the Americas, the Union Carbide Building at 270 Park Avenue and the Chase Manhattan Bank Building at 28 Liberty Street.[229] However, the Seagram Building was specifically cited as an influence on the 1961 zoning code.[236][237]

Paul Goldberger wrote in The New York Times in 1976 that the Seagram Building was one of "New York's most copied buildings", its design having been copied in several structures worldwide.[111] According to William H. Jordy, these structures included 270 Park Avenue and the Inland Steel Building.[215][238] Mies reused the building's design for towers in Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Toronto. According to writer E. C. Relph, the design was "widely plagiarised in various colours and shapes by other architects", though Relph considered some of the other towers to be "devoid of interesting copies".[239] In mid-2005, the Skyscraper Museum in Lower Manhattan asked 100 architects, builders, critics, engineers, historians, and scholars, among others, to choose their 10 favorites among 25 of the city's towers. The Seagram Building came in second place behind the Chrysler Building, with 76 respondents placing it on their ballots.[223][240]

See also[]



  1. ^ The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and The New York Times state the slab is 100 feet (30 m) from Park Avenue.[17][35]
  2. ^ SkyscraperPage and Emporis cite a height of 515 feet (157 m)[37][38] while Architectural Forum and the National Park Service give a height of 520 feet (160 m).[34][39]
  3. ^ "In 1958 Ms. Lambert commissioned Mark Rothko to create a series of murals for the Four Seasons. He began work but backed out and then vented to a reporter that he had only accepted the job with 'malicious intent,' so he could make paintings so disagreeable as to spoil the appetites of the restaurant’s fat-cat patrons."[72]
  4. ^ The rooms had a maximum capacity of 400[92] or 485.[94]
  5. ^ The total floor space on each story was slightly higher. The second through fourth stories had 31,955 sq ft (2,968.7 m2) each; the fifth through tenth stories, 22,225 sq ft (2,064.8 m2); and the eleventh and higher stories, 14,933 sq ft (1,387.3 m2).[33]
  6. ^ a b c d Thomas, Ryland; Williamson, Samuel H. (2020). "What Was the U.S. GDP Then?". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved September 22, 2020. United States Gross Domestic Product deflator figures follow the Measuring Worth series.
  7. ^ According to architectural writer Robert A. M. Stern, the architects under Lambert considered included "Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, George Howe, William Lescaze, Eero Saarinen, Louis Kahn, Frank Lloyd Wright, Minoru Yamasaki, I. M. Pei, Le Corbusier, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe".[133]


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Further reading[]

  • Lambert, Phyllis (2013). Building Seagram. New Haven, Connecticut London, England: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-16767-2. OCLC 813392773.
  • Marshall, Bruce (2005). Building New York: The Rise and Rise of the Greatest City on Earth. New York, NY: Universe. ISBN 978-0-7893-1362-1. OCLC 61915976.
  • Stichweh, Dirk (2009). New York Skyscrapers. Munich New York: Prestel Publishing. ISBN 978-3-7913-4054-8. OCLC 340850005.
  • Stoller, Ezra (1999). The Seagram Building. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. ISBN 978-1-56898-201-4. OCLC 41540284.
  • Wolfe, Tom (1981). From Bauhaus to Our House. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux. ISBN 978-0-374-15892-7. OCLC 7734777.

External links[]

External video
video icon Smarthistory – Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building
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