The fame of the Lever House in the 1950s was matched by the Seagram Building in the 1960s. This steel skeleton framed skyscraper, headquarters of the Seagram Liquor Company, established the basic form of the corporate tower for years to come. Like Lever House, the curtain wall tower is not built to the edge of the site. It occupies only 40 percent of the allowable zoning envelope, freeing up space for a granite-paved public plaza enhanced by two reflecting pools and marble benches that is widely regarded as one of the most successful in the city. The plaza is an expensive aesthetic and symbolic gesture, especially significant in the dense urban environment which surrounds it.

Designed by a famous European architect who immigrated to the United States at the beginning of World War II, this building epitomizes the importation of modernist ideals from Europe to the United States. In its monumental simplicity, expressed structural frame and rational use of repeated building elements, the building embodies Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's oft-repeated aphorisms that "structure is spiritual" and "less is more." He believed that the more a building was pared to its essential structural and functional elements, and the less superfluous imagery is used, the more a building expresses its structure and form.

Following these premises, the Seagram Building is meant to confirm Mies' assertion that when modern industrialized building technology is truthfully expressed, architecture becomes transcendent. Ironically, the luxurious materials used (marble for the plaza benches, travertine for the lobby walls and floor, tinted glass and bronze for the curtain wall) and the carefully controlled customized details that pervade the building remind the viewer that this building is far from being the simple result of rationalized industrial production and construction techniques. Additionally, Mies' selective exposure of the function or non-function of various architectural elements is based on illusionism. The building is, in a sense, a structural fiction rather then an honest expression.


Seagram Building
375 Park Avenue, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe with Philip Johnson (design architects), Kahn & Jacobs (associate architects) [1958]