Test your knowledge with a quiz
- 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.
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 Skyline” The 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: