Explore Float

Seagram Building 1958

by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1886-1969

Widely considered by architectural critics to be one of the most influential buildings in modern skyscraper design, Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building was almost never built. Seagram CEO Samuel Bronfman had selected another design until he showed it to his daughter Phyllis Lambert who hated the design’s bulky and unoriginal style. Frustrated, she urged her father to commission a modern and revolutionary skyscraper. Lambert, who had studied art at Vassar College, was given a mission to find an architect who could design something that would gain recognition for its modern design. She selected Mies van der Rohe, whose pavilion for Germany at the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition gained him international recognition  for his new international style of building, so named because it was not based on the vernacular architecture of any specific region, but could be built anywhere in the world and fit into the landscape.

Like Lever House across the street, the Seagram Building has a steel frame and glass curtain wall. The bronze exterior and many of the other materials were chosen by CEO Samuel Bronfman, and the glass is tinted brown in reference to the color of Seagram’s whiskey. The overall design reflects Mies van der Rohe’s attention to detail and proportions. In tradition with the modernist style, there is little ornamentation except for steel beams on the facade, which exaggerate the structure’s verticality. In addition to office spaces designed by Morris Lapidus, the building houses the Four Seasons restaurant, designed by Mies van der Rohe and his assistant Philip Johnson.

Seagram’s public plaza set it apart from the other New York skyscrapers when it was built. Following the city’s zoning laws from 1916, the tower was built away from the sidewalk to let light into the streets. Mies van der Rohe used this space to create a plaza. In his 1988 film, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, urbanist William Whyte summarizes the reasons for the Seagram plaza’s success, including its plentiful seating and accessibility from the sidewalk. The plaza was so successful and well-liked by pedestrians that its design inspired the 1961 zoning laws, which allowed buildings more height in exchange for public spaces.


1930 Mies van der Rohe assumes directorship of Bauhaus
1938 Mies van der Rohe emigrates to United States
1958 Mies van der Rohe completes Seagram Building

Reference Links

internal Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - Wiki
link Mies van der Rohe Society
internal Seagram Building - Wiki
article A Personal Stamp on the Skyline
internal Philip Johnson - Wiki
internal gDoc