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Thread: The Seagram Building

  1. #31
    Fearless Photog RoldanTTLB's Avatar
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    I really like international style buildings, but they're really easy to make badly. When a building is relying on proportions and quality of materials to work, there's no room for error. Even if the proportions of a beaux-arts tower are off, the ornamentation can easily make up for it. Conversely, Woolworth is still beloved despite the questionable quality of its current cladding material. Unfortunately, wavy glass, poor vertical or horizontal elements, and buildings too short/wide plague international style buildings everywhere. Even worse, since these buildings weren't built too long ago, and were built to be wildly profitable, they're collecting. I do find the Seagram Building to be incredibly handsome, but I also like Lever more.

  2. #32
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Design Doyenne

    At 27, she commissioned the Seagram Building. Now, a half-century later, Phyllis Lambert deconstructs its legacy in a new book.

    By Fred A. Bernstein

    It’s the rare book that saves its fireworks for the appendix. But in Phyllis Lambert’s Building Seagram (Yale University Press), that’s where you’ll find the urgent letter she wrote to her father, the Canadian liquor tycoon Samuel Bronfman, demanding that he choose a better architect for the skyscraper he was planning to build on New York’s Park Avenue. Lambert had just seen a rendering of the design her father had commissioned and found it “horrifying,” she recalls in the book. Pounding the keys of her typewriter, she wrote “no, no, no, no,” insisting he rethink his choice. “It is quiet elegance, harmony, sobriety, humility that makes beauty, not flashiness,” she scrawled in the margin.

    Lambert was 27 then, living in Paris and studying sculpture. But her marriage to the French banker Baron Jean Lambert had ended, and she decided to fly to New York to find her father an architect as ambitious as he was. (Bronfman first offered Lambert the chance to choose only the marble, to which she replied, “Then you won’t have a daughter.”) Stateside, she interviewed everyone from Eero Saarinen to I.M. Pei and considered Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, before settling on Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the imperious German émigré, whom his protégé Philip Johnson described as “a groan-and-grunt man.” The two met in Chicago near Mies’s apartment. “Mies was profoundly generous and charming,” she recalls. “One sensed the inner integrity and the greatness of the man.”


    Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lambert with the
    model for the Seagram Building, New York, 1955.

    As Seagram’s director of planning, Lambert visited the site daily. “I had intended to go back to Paris, but I stayed in New York, convinced that if the one person who really cared about the building was not there, Mies would not build Seagram,” she says. With Lambert as his protector and Johnson as his assistant, Mies went on to create in 1958 the Seagram building, a landmark of 20th-century architecture.

    It’s still her baby, as she makes clear during lunch in the building’s storied Four Seasons restaurant, where we meet on a February day. Though the place is best known for its power-lunch crowd, Lambert is more interested in the power of its design. “Mies took the column out of the middle there and set up this great room,” she says. But while she is in a restaurant where entrées can cost upwards of $65, her heart is outside, in the plaza, which is open to anyone, free of charge. “I’ve always cared not so much about the building but about how it impacts the life of the city,” she says. Pre-*Seagram, buildings began at the sidewalk; Mies set his tower back from the street, creating an open space where the public can congregate. The idea has been imitated all over the world, changing urban design forever.


    The completed skyscraper, designed by Mies
    and Philip Johnson, New York, 1958.

    Little of the real world intruded on Lambert’s childhood in Montreal; she says she ventured out from the family’s estate for riding lessons or to attend synagogue, where, as a tycoon’s daughter, she was stared at. Her father’s strong personality and fierce temper terrified her.

    But though she may have inherited her father’s drive, Lambert was never given the chance to run his liquor empire. “It was clear the dice were loaded in favor of the boys,” she tells me, referring to her kid brothers Edgar and Charles. Instead, she studied architecture (under Mies, once the project was finished), while Edgar and then her nephew Edgar Jr. ran the company. After a series of bad investments, Seagram was sold for parts in 2000. In the end, it was Lambert who created the only lasting monument to the company.

    Today Lambert lives alone in a former dried-fruit factory in Montreal and runs the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), perhaps the world’s most carefully curated architecture museum. Known as Joan of Architecture for her efforts to preserve the city’s historic buildings, she has worked as an architect, patron, photographer, writer, museum director, curator, and philanthropist.

    Small wonder then that Johnson once called her “a woman of enormous energy, of fantastic single-mindedness almost to the point of absurdity.” Though she used to show up to work at the CCA in mechanic-style coveralls, this afternoon she is dressed in a black pantsuit, wearing a necklace of plastic cherries. Most striking is her hair, a mix of golds and grays in a flat-sided coif of deliberate roughness; Lambert has cut it herself for more than 60 years. It’s a habit that arose from her dislike, as a teenage socialite-in-training, of interminable salon appointments. “At the end, I’d look in a mirror and not recognize myself,” she says. “I hated all the gossip.”

    Lambert began writing Building Seagram in part to correct the record about Johnson’s role, thinking he had inflated it. (Johnson was a world-class self-promoter.) But after extensive research, she decided that his work on its lighting and interiors was, in fact, central to the building’s success. I ask how the Four Seasons looks to her these days. Well, she replies, some of the metal balusters along the grand stairway are bent, and in the Grill Room, ill-chosen bulbs are reflecting too brightly off the walnut paneling. No doubt, if Lambert has anything to do with it, the lighting will be improved by the time she’s feted in the room in May, at the launch party for the book. Still, she confesses, she’d rather be attending a symposium. Unlike a party, Lambert adds pointedly, a symposium “leaves you with something”—as, of course, does a nearly perfect building.

    http://www.wmagazine.com/artdesign/2...agram-building

    http://www.amazon.com/Building-Seagr...ilding+seagram

  3. #33

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    I just got that book yesterday from Amazon. Love it. One of my favorite NY buildings.

  4. #34
    Forum Veteran MidtownGuy's Avatar
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    Interesting reading. Thanks for posting the article, Merry.

  5. #35
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    ^ Hellooooooo, MTG, where are you?


    Preservationists Gingerly Move Embattled Picasso Curtain

    by Zoe Rosenberg


    Photo courtesy of Rick Bruner, The New York Landmarks Conservancy.

    The contested 19- by 20-foot Pablo Picasso-painted stage curtain "Le Tricorne" that has been on display at the Four Seasons restaurant for the last 55 years has been moved. The painting's placement was called into question some seven months ago when Seagram Building owner/curmudgeon Aby Rosen claimed the brittle artwork needed to be taken down from the site so structural fixes could be made to the wall behind the painting. The move was completed by the New York Landmarks Conservancy, who gruelingly discovered the pretty priceless artwork was affixed to the wall with hundreds of staples (h/t NYT). Uh, whoa, that's about the farthest mounting method from appropriate, but no matter, their 40 hands removed "Le Tricorne" without incident.

    Somewhat hilariously, NYP reports that curtain-hater Aby Rosen now claims that the painting isn't authentic and not worth the commotion it has caused because, he says, Picasso himself did no hands-on work on the piece. The curtain will now be restored and come to rest in the New York Historical Society. Look like Rosen will have to find something else to kvetch about.

    After 55 Years in Vaunted Spot, a Picasso Is Persuaded to Curl [NYT]
    Mogul claims Four Seasons' Picasso painting isn't real [NYP]

    http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2014/0...so_curtain.php

  6. #36
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Review> The Worthy Client

    Mildred F. Schmertz reads Phyllis Lambert's book on the groundbreaking Mies project.

    by Mildred F. Schmertz


    Fonds Phyllis Lambert (right), Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal. Courtesy United Press International

    In her prologue for Building Seagram Phyllis Lambert begins with a question: “How could Philip Johnson ever have dreamed of being the partner of Mies van der Rohe? Why would my father [Samuel Bronfman, CEO of the Seagram Company] have placed me, without managerial or professional experience, in the position of selecting the architect for the Seagram building? And why would he have agreed to my appointment as director of planning for the building?”

    In the years that followed the completion of Seagram, Lambert was to become a distinguished architectural historian, an effective preservationist, and a leading philanthropist. In 1963 she earned a degree from the School of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology, on the campus designed and built by Mies. By then, however, Mies no longer taught there, but his influence prevailed. Later, after achieving a license to practice, she was to become architect and planner for other family related projects. In the summer of 1954, however, her credentials were understandably few. Only 27-years old, a 1948 graduate of Vassar, and recently divorced from a French banker after a 5-year marriage, she was living in Paris, working as a sculptor.

    In June of that year she received from her father a sketch by Pereira & Luckman, an architecture and planning firm in Los Angeles. It was an image depicting the basic design theme for Seagram on the site finally chosen—Park Avenue, between 52nd and 53rd opposite the Racquet and Tennis Club and Lever House. With the hapless desire to please his daughter, Bronfman described the design as “Renaissance Modernized” recalling the visit they had once made together to the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. “I found it horrifying,” Lambert writes.

    She promptly sent an eight-page closely typed letter with marginal notes in her own hand to “Dearest Daddy,” in the hope of making him aware of his folly and begging him to abandon the Luckman plan. It is a remarkable document, a facsimile of which is reproduced in full in an appendix of her book. A noteworthy paragraph lectures her eminent parent on the ethics of building.

    “You must put up a building which expresses the best of the society in which you live, and at the same time your hopes for the betterment of this society. You have a great responsibility and your building is not only for the people of your companies, it is much more for all people, in New York and the rest of the world.” As the story goes, her letter by itself left him unmoved. He responded with a telephone call suggesting that she come home to choose the marble for the ground floor of the Luckman building that, in spite of her, he soon intended to construct. Her mother, believing that “Daddy” simply wanted her to come home from Paris, suggested he invite her to New York to possibly be of some real help. Lambert, however, explains, “It was the fire and conviction with which I wrote of the importance of the role of architecture in society and my belief that my father really wanted a great building that must ultimately have engaged his attention at a moment when the business-as-usual procedures that Seagram executives and professionals were applying to the project could hardly have galvanized him.”

    Lambert believed herself to be living in an era when “the greatest contemporary architects, who were equal to those of the Renaissance were still alive.” She soon chose to come to New York to begin a comprehensive search to find the right genius for Seagram. Lou R. Crandall, president of George A. Fuller Company, the construction firm that had been chosen by Bronfman to build the yet to be fully designed skyscraper, had the intelligence to intervene in Lambert’s behalf. He persuaded her father that his daughter’s knowledge of architecture made her the ideal leader for this effort. He joined her and Philip Johnson in a six-week period during which the three visited the offices and significant completed work of Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier, I.M. Pei, Paul Rudolph, Eero Saarinen, SOM, Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Minoru Yamasaki, among others. Johnson, known for the Glass House and Brick Guest House on his estate in New Canaan, was about to leave his post as curator of architecture at MoMA to develop his practice, and as it turned out had been spending his time well with Lambert and Crandall.

    Their criterion was first aesthetic, then pragmatic. To be chosen was a creative and inventive architect whose strengths Lambert would come to understand and approve, if she hadn’t already.

    Ideally there would be a built urban skyscraper or two in his portfolio. Nevertheless, although manifestly successful, he must not be overburdened by major projects at the moment. Mies met every measure including a very important one—he shared Lambert’s conception of the ethics of building and the meaning of form. She quotes him, “Form is not the aim of our work, but only the result,” and adds that in 1922 he stated, “We should develop the new forms from the very nature of the new problems.”

    Crandall, without whom Lambert might never have prevailed, favored Mies because working with him would be “do-able.” It was widely known that Le Corbusier, though the boldest vanguard choice, would be anything but. Lambert writes,” When Mies met my father at his apartment in New York (the conversation was facilitated by the presence of my mother and Philip Johnson, who both spoke German), they took each other’s measure with genuine respect.” After the selection of Mies, Crandall was highly influential in the formation of the Seagram design and construction team. It was he who suggested that Johnson and Mies become associated on the project. Mies then offered Johnson a partnership for the work in gratitude for the more than 25 years that the younger architect and curator had critically supported his architecture. On December 1, 1954, five months after her famous letter to “Daddy,” Crandall named Lambert director of planning.

    Design began, the site was cleared, and construction promptly followed. The official designation of the Seagram building as complete occurred on September 29, 1959.

    Lambert’s 306-page book is a straightforward account of what it was like to hold the power of client during the years of building Seagram, but it is ever so much more than that. The new skyscraper had become a great financial success. The company occupied 128,387 square feet of the space and the rest was filled with tenants paying among the highest office rents in New York City. Because Seagram no longer dominated the distillery industry, and there were other incentives, by 1976 her brother, Edgar M. Bronfman, who succeeded his father as CEO, began to consider selling the building (the senior Bronfman had died in 1971). In February 1980 the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America bought it. As the major tenant Seagram could and did establish controls over the building’s future architectural life. Thus began Lambert’s long and successful battle to get the tower, the plaza, and the Four Seasons Restaurant established as a New York City landmark in 1989.

    In the book’s epilogue “Changing Hands” Lambert gives an unflinching account of the end of her family’s connection to Seagram. Edgar Bronfman had been selling the family’s liquor businesses to competitors, thereby enabling him to buy media and entertainment companies. These investments were failing. By 2002 Seagram no longer existed as a business because all its assets were gone, which was followed by its departure from the splendid building Mies created 43 years before. Yet, thanks to Lambert’s intensive efforts it is safely landmarked and remains an unforgettable presence in the city. But sadly, Seagram doesn’t live there anymore, except in Lambert’s honest and comprehensive book.

    http://www.archpaper.com/news/articl...7#.VBZf4haM0ug

  7. #37
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Since the building is a landmark, shame it's not available for everyone.


    11th-floor terrace just opened at 375 Park Ave.

    By Steve Cuozzo
    October 28, 2014


    The new Executive Lounge at 375 Park Avenue, Manhattan Photo: Brian Zak

    The Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-designed Seagram Building at 375 Park Ave. is widely regarded as the masterpiece of the International Style.

    But there’s one thing the 630,000 square-foot tower, opened in 1958, never had: an outdoor terrace.

    Owner Aby Rosen’s RFR Realty has just opened one on an 11th-floor setback roof deck on Seagram’s east side.

    The executive lounge and terrace designed by Studios Architecture is exclusively for tenants’ use. It’s part of a $25 million program to pamper tenants spending up to $170 a square foot. “We’re not the cheapest option in town,” Rosen chuckled.

    The “club-like” facility includes a glass-enclosed library offering coffee and tea service, wine tastings, and food from the Four Seasons and Brasserie restaurants downstairs.

    The 7,280 square-foot alfresco deck boasts 4,500 square feet of grass. At night, ambient light will pour from skyscrapers that loom close enough to give it the feel of an open-air room.

    The terrace “will let executives spend time away from their offices to meet friends and clients in an environment that’s disarming,” Rosen said.

    http://nypost.com/2014/10/28/11th-fl...-375-park-ave/

  8. #38
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Four Seasons Restaurant's Iconic Modernist Design Is Safe

    May 19, 2015, by Zoe Rosenberg



    Architect Annabelle Selldorf appeared in front of the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday to present a series of proposed alterations to Philip Johnson's 1958 lauded modernist interior, The Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building. The usually well-received Selldorf, commissioned by building owner Aby Rosen's RFR Holdings, presented a plan to change the carpeting throughout the restaurant, modify an original walnut panel in the Pool Room, and remove a glass partition added to the Grill Room by Johnson in 1983 in favor of returning the site's original planters. "I've never been so nervous to make a presentation," Selldorf said as she took her place in front of the commissioners and a packed audience. Her nerves were founded in good instincts: the alterations were reamed.



    At left, an image of the existing cracked glass panels the proposal sought to remove. At right, a historic image of the Grill Room when it still had planters, demonstrating what the proposal sought to bring back.

    Selldorf's presentation began with a plan to swap out the restaurant's current carpeting with a grid-design floor covering of red and black hues. The more dramatic—and contested—of the alterations discussed included changes to fixtures appointed by Johnson in the restaurant's two main rooms.

    First, Selldorf proposed adjusting the walnut panel that looms above the Pool Room and frames the view out to Fifth Avenue from the mezzanine level. The plan included creating pivoting wood forms within the larger panel which, if open, would allow for a more open-concept feel, blurring the lines of distinction between the mezzanine level and the lower Pool Room's revered 60- by 60-foot interior. Second, Selldorf proposed removing an intentionally cracked glass partition installed by Johnson in the Grill Room 30 years into the restaurant's tenure. The partition was erected to replace a row of low planters where, by some miracle, even ivy couldn't thrive. Selldorf proposed reinstalling planters to facilitate flow between the Grill Room's bar area and adjacent tables. "[The glass partitions] bring up the idea of authorship," Selldorf opined of Johnson's late addition, "If you write a book and add a chapter 30 years later, you might be writing differently." An interesting point with which few, if any, of the people she was facing agreed.



    Not surprisingly, the commissioners and audience took least issue with topical tweaks to the prized and aging space. Ultimately, the LPC gave the green light to RFR and Selldorf to install new carpeting, with the stipulation that the textile pass through the commission for the final say. The planters and picoting panels (click for big), though, were another story.

    The room was crowded with architects and preservationists, venerable in their trades, who wanted to speak on behalf of maintaining the Four Seasons as-is. Belmont Freeman, an architect and adjunct professor of architecture at Columbia University, expressed that "some work" could be "unobjectionable, if done cautiously." (The restaurant, after all, is nearly 60 years old.) But, he continued, the proposals to alter and remove the walnut and glass panels "betray an understanding of the design of the restaurant … and do violence to that design." On behalf of the New York Landmarks Conservancy , Alex Herrera agreed that Johnson's original design intent should be honored. Regarding the glass panels threatened by the return of planters, he asked, "Why replace distinctive with ordinary in one of the great rooms of America?"

    For many speaking on behalf of the restaurant as-is, the space is more than an iconic room. It is, according to Robert A.M. Stern, a "cultural emblem of the highest order," and RFR's attempt to alter the lauded landmarked interior represents a larger debate over the place of architectural heritage in a city with shifting motives. "What is at stake here is not the fate of a restaurant," Edgar Bronfman Jr., whose grandfather oversaw the rise of the Seagram Building, said, "What is at stake here is whether ownership trumps preservation, whether deception triumphs over transparency, and whether the wealth, power, and influence of a building's proprietors can trample both the fundamental integrity of an historic space and the commission created to protect and serve such spaces." Last year's Le Tricorne debacle, when Rosen insisted on having the Picasso stage curtain removed from the restaurant at the potential expense of its ruin, lingered on the room's mind.


    Image via Daniel Krieger for Eater.

    When all who had signed up to speak had voiced their concerns, the commissioners spoke up. "We can only opine about what decisions [Johnson] might have made" regarding updates to the walnut and glass panels, Commissioner Bland said, ruminating that creating pivoting panels would have an adverse affect to Johnson's very measured intentions in the Pool Room. But it was Commissioner Gustaffson who put the pivoting panels to rest, "The context of the Four Seasons is special and complete. It is unified, it is unique, it is integral, and in some sense, it is without equal. The context is also a perfect square. The context is also a perfect space."

    At the end of the two-hour hearing, the only concession the commission made to RFR and Selldorf remained the okay to change the carpet. The installation of pivoting walnut panels and the proposal to remove Johnson's 1983 glass room divider was cast aside permanently. When asked how she thought the meeting went, Phyllis Lambert, an integral character in the Seagram Building's rise who remains one of its most important advocates today, said she was "entirely grateful." "It was beautiful," she said, before getting whisked off to one of many congratulatory chats.

    UPDATE: RFR issued the following statement to The Post, "We respect the commission's vote this afternoon and look forward to working with them on restoring the Seagram Building's restaurant space to its former glory."

    Aby Rosen, not so eloquent, spoke to the said to the Times regarding the decision, "'Somebody should have gotten up to say, 'I want to congratulate Mr. Rosen, who has the financial wisdom to save something great in this town,' ' ... "I'm going to do what I think should be done. I'm spending 20 million bucks restoring it.' "

    http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2015/0...gn_is_safe.php

  9. #39

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    In a telephone interview, Mr. Rosen — who did not attend the hearing — sounded undeterred...

    Mr. Rosen suggested he still may be able to remove the glass partition, which Mr. Johnson designed in 1983 to replace his original trellis when its ivy failed to grow. He said that he is obligated under the landmarks law only to preserve it and that he could store it elsewhere.
    Mr. Rosen insisted, however, that he would go full speed ahead on injecting new life into a restaurant he said had grown stale.
    Those changes, Mr. Rosen said, will include bringing in new restaurateurs. The Four Seasons has for some 40 years been presided over by Julian Niccolini and Mr. von Bidder.
    “Their lease is up in July, so they’re out,” Mr. Rosen said. “If something was designed in 1958 and it’s not as functional in 2015, you ask for a change,” he continued. “I’m going to restore the Four Seasons back to its glory. I love the guys but their time has passed, and sometimes something great needs to go.”
    What an a$$

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/20/ny...s&emc=rss&_r=2

  10. #40
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    ^ Agreed.

    "...sometimes something great needs to go."


    He seems to thinks he himself is great, so maybe it's time for HIM to go!!

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