AD Classics: Seagram Building / Mies van der Rohe

Located in the heart of City, the Seagram Building designed by Mies van der Rohe epitomizes elegance and the principles of modernism. The 38-story building on Park Avenue was Mies’ first attempt at tall office building construction. Mies’ solution set a standard for the modern skyscraper. The building became a monumental continuity of bronze and dark glass climbing up 515 feet to the top of the tower, juxtaposing the large granite surface of the plaza below.

© Hagen Stier

Mies’ response to the city with the Seagram Building was the grand gesture of setting back the building 100 feet from the street edge, which created a highly active open plaza. The plaza attracts users with its two large fountains surrounded by generous outdoor seating. By making this move, Mies distanced himself from New York urban morphology, lot line development, and the conventional economics of skyscraper construction. The plaza also created a procession to the entry of the building, providing the threshold that linked the city with the skyscraper. This threshold continues into the building as a horizontal plane in the plaza that cuts into the lobby. The lobby also has a white ceiling that stretches out over the entry doors further eroding the defined line between interior and exterior.

Lobby floor plan

The office spaces above the lobby, furnished by Philip Johnson, have flexible floor plans lit with luminous ceiling panels. These floors also get maximum natural lighting with the exterior being glass panes of gray topaz that provide floor-to-ceiling windows for the office spaces. The gray topaz glass was used for sun and heat protection, and although there are Venetian blinds for window coverings they could only be fixed in a limited number of positions so as to provide visual consistency from the outside.

The detailing of the exterior surface was carefully determined by the desired exterior expression Mies wanted to achieve. The metal bronze skin that is seen in the facade is nonstructural but is used to express the idea of the structural frame that is underneath. Additional vertical elements were also welded to the window panels not only to stiffen the skin for installation and wind loading, but to aesthetically further enhance the vertical articulation of the building.

The Seagram Building, with its use of modern materials and setback from the city grid, became a prototype for future office buildings designed by Mies as well as a model for many buildings erected in its surroundings. This building, fifty years after its completion, is still admired by many visitors everyday and sets an example of an International style skyscraper amidst the New York skyline.

Architects: Mies van der Rohe + Philip Johnson
Location: 375 Park Avenue, New York City, New York,
Commissioners: Seagram Liquor Company
Structural Engineering: Severud Associates
Project Area: 150,918 square feet
Project Year: 1954-1958
Photographs: Depending on the photograph: Dillon Scheenard or t.udaondo on Flickr,  Hagen Stier, and MoMA
References: Zimmerman, Claire. Mies van der Rohe. Taschen America Llc, 2006. Print. and www.nyc-architecture.com

This building is part of our Architecture City Guide: New York. Check all the other buildings on this guide right here.

Cite: Perez, Adelyn. "AD Classics: Seagram Building / Mies van der Rohe" 10 May 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 02 Sep 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=59412>

30 comments

  1. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    i can’t believe they built this thing, it looks so fifties and ‘high modern’. i thought that fad was all over. just kidding-awesome recap of a great building thanks guys

  2. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    time to bring back to mind what actually is good architecture! this one definitely is better than most new towers i’ve seen in the last years!

  3. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    Truly a classic!
    Facade contains nearly 3.2 million lbs of bronze… the single largest use of architectural bronze – ever! Long live Mies!

  4. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    “god is in the details” …details please AD? :) great series, keep them coming!

  5. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    I live in a Mies-designed apartment building in Newark, New Jersey, USA and love it. The building turned 50 years old this year and it still looks as sleek and modern as the day it was opened. His design is timeless.

  6. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    MIES LIES !!!

    Here’s a quote from this article:

    “The metal bronze skin that is seen in the facade is nonstructural but is used to express the idea of the structural frame that is underneath.”

    BIG CONTRADICTION!!!!

    So, the metal bronze skin on Seagram Building is an implicit ornamental appliqué used to connote structural meaning, although not actually a structural element. I thought Modern architecture was all about honesty to materials and genuine aesthetic structure.

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      16:08:78 I believe you’re misreading Mies. Perhaps a quote from the master may help elucidate: “Means must be subsidiary to ends and to our desire for dignity and value.”

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      si bien es cierto la estructura no esta hecha de bronce, si hubiese sido por mies el dejaba la estructura tal cual la hizo pero hiba en contra del reglamento de edificaciones de new york, toda estructura debia estar recubierta por algun elemento por precaucion a incendios, es por esto q mies recubre la estructura

  7. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    Ah, the good old days. Before gerkins, shards, blobs, crystals, wedges, rolled up newspapers and ‘biomimicry’, we had crystal clear, warts and all modernism. Thanks Mies.

    • Thumb up Thumb down -1

      modern then is not modern now. titles and name calling aside, not understanding something doesn’t give license to discard or disregard it.

      probably not what mies would do today.

  8. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    this is one of the the only two buildings that is set back on park avenue (the other being park ave church) it completely breaks the code of the avenue and creates this amazing public space, and creates a special identity for the building & corperation. and yes this is a good idea, but not every architect can achieve the same. The Seagram familiy paid a lot of money and they managed to create an exception within the zoning rule of Manhattan – so it’s capitalism and architecture working hand by hand, which is what Mies was so keen to express, the new look of capitalism.

  9. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    this building must be the template from which all the other “glass box” and Trump Towers of New York get their inspiration

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