Mies in Manhattan, mid-fifties modern: The Seagram Building

An International Style gem on Park Avenue

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe with Philip Johnson, Seagram Building, 1956–58, 375 Park Avenue, New York (this replaces a video from 2011) Note: In the video we call Le Corbusier a French architect, but he was born in Switzerland and became a French citizen in 1930.

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Seagram Building

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Key points

  • The Seagram building in midtown Manhattan (one of the five boroughs of New York City) is considered an icon of modernist architecture. At thirty eight stories tall, the sleek tower embraces simplicity and discipline, and elegantly employs modern industrial materials such as metal and glass while also drawing on the revered traditions of ancient Greek and Roman architecture. Classical references, visible in the decoration, materials, and proportions of the structure, indicate the modernist architectural movement’s interest in striking a balance between the old and the new.
  • German-born architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s had a long history with this kind of building, as seen by designs he proposed in Germany in the 1920s and then in the many designs he realized in North America after his relocation to Chicago in 1938. His style was highly influential and copied in many buildings as part of the International Style of architecture that was prevalent in North America and Europe in the 1950s-70s.

Go deeper

Read about Phyllis Lambert (daughter of Seagram’s head Samuel Bronfman and director of planning for the Seagram Building project) and her recollections on the design and construction of the building in Mark Lamster, “A Personal Stamp on the SkylineThe New York Times, April 3, 2013

Watch the 1958 video of the Seagram Building’s construction, courtesy of Hagley Digital Library

Learn more about Ludwig Mies van der Rohe from MoMA

Learn about Lever House, designed by Skidmore Owings and Merrill in 1950-52 and which sits across the street from the Seagram Building on Park Avenue

More to think about

Consider the question posed in the video: has Mies created a building and space that allows us to occupy it comfortably or is this something that is alienating and cold, perpetuating the stereotype of modernist architecture? Recognizing that you may not have been around or inside the Seagram building, use evidence from the video and pictures of the building linked below as well as your own experience of architecture in your community or in places you have visited as you consider this question.

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

[flickr_tags user_id=”82032880@N00″ tags=”seagram,”]

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Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.