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Seagram Building, New York
Model completed in 2015
About this creation
This model is approximately 1/650th scale, similar to my other skyscrapers.

14 Higher resolution photos, available on Brickshelf.com

Recommended Reading: Phyllis Lambert, Building Seagram, Yale University Press 2013

The Seagram Building is a 38 story 516ft tall office tower situated on Park Avenue in New York City. It was completed in 1958 and is considered a master work of the famous architect Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe. Mies worked in collaboration with Philip Johnson, who was responsible for most of the lobby and interior lighting design.

The design broke with the typical New York practice of building out to the lot line. By placing the tower 90ft back from the street a large pedestrian friendly open plaza was created.

Seagram gave rise to entire generation of similarly (International) styled office towers and the success of the plaza as a public space helped rewrite the zoning laws in Manhattan in 1961. Interestingly, the Seagram Building is the only office building Mies ever built New York City.


The origin of the Seagram Building is an interesting story. In the postwar period, Park Avenue was rapidly transforming from a residential avenue to a prestigious corporate address. The Canadian distiller Seagram decided to build a trophy tower there and owner Samuel Bronfman enlisted newly practicing architect Charles Luckman to produce a design proposal. Luckman had studied architecture in college but had subsequently given it up and gone on to a long and successful career in the world of business. He had been the CEO of Lever Brothers and had been instrumental in the construction of the landmark Lever House office tower located across from Seagram’s site. Upon seeing Luckman’s tepid vertical striped tower rising from a low podium occupying the entire site, Bronfman’s twenty seven year old daughter Phyllis Lambert wrote her father a detailed eight page letter outlining all the reasons the Luckman design should not be built. Her letter starts off “NO, NO, NO, NO, NO”. Bronfman was eventually convinced by her arguments and enlisted her as the project’s Director of Planning and tasked her with finding an architect. Lambert spent considerable time and effort researching candidates including Le Corbusier, Mies, and Frank Lloyd Wright before finally settling on Mies.

Seagram continues on Mies’ style of the external expression of underlying structure. The I-beam mullions running the length of the façade are of bronze and non-structural. The use of these and other premium materials, such as the travertine covered elevator banks in the lobbies, made Seagram at the time the most expensive office building ever constructed. Over the years the bronze façade has weathered to a deep rich brown, nearly black in color.

The I-beam mullions are too small to be adequately modeled here, so I’ve used trans-black plates sideways to delineate vertical and horizontal articulations of the façade.

The low reflecting pools of the plaza are perhaps my favorite detail. I spent a great deal of time refining the plaza as I felt it is the most important design element of the model. I wanted the representation of the water to provide a shallow and calm appearance. Using a traditional approach with translucent plates or tiles was out of the question. I ended up employing trans-light blue window panels to give uninterrupted smoothness and convey shallow optical depth. I also experimented with many underlying colors to alter the hue of the water to a very light bluish-green tint. The pool bottoms themselves are actually built of tan. I tried using trans-clear round plates to represent the small fountains that are present within the real pools. However I found their presence to be visually distracting and they are omitted in the model.

The real pools are 46ft wide and 69ft long each. My design is about one plate width too wide, but it was a compromise driven by the choice of modeling technique. Seagram’s plaza often features a large sculpture that is changed out on a regular basis. I omitted any such representations as well as the off center flag pole for further visual clarity.

Philip Johnson had originally proposed the pools be larger, wrapping around the lobby under the external columns. The tower then would appear to rise from the water. Mies upon hearing of the idea quipped “Ja, That’s exactly what doesn’t happen, the building rises out of the water.”

The plaza is flanked on two sides by raised verde antique marble benches that run the length of the plaza along 52nd and 53rd streets. The side streets slope downward toward Lexington Ave and city building codes required the plaza have a railing at least 36 inches high to prevent falls from the plaza. Mies didn’t want unsightly railings cluttering the plaza and received approval to use a low (36 inch wide) flat marble slab instead. Utilized as sitting spaces they are quite popular with the public, even near the front where they narrowly hug the edges of the reflecting pools. These are modeled with sand green rail plates. Dark green might be a closer choice if the rail element were available in that particular color; however it also might erroneously read as planted vegetation.

The plaza is a very popular public space and William H. Whyte’s Social Life of Small Urban Spaces studied the factors that made Seagram’s a success where others failed.

The back side of the tower from 52nd Street reveals a low-rise bustle which house two restaurants (the famous Four Seasons and Brasserie) as well as entrances to the underground parking garage.

The Seagram Company sold the building in 1979. The building was designated a New York City landmark in 1989. Despite its age and being flanked by larger and newer towers the Seagram Building remains a prestigious address and still commands some of the highest corporate rents in all of New York City.

Here is an actual picture of the tower that I took while studying it in New York.



Comments

 I like it 
  October 6, 2015
I waited a few days to write a comment, because I did not know what to say. But now I have a word for your model of the Seagram Building: Perfection!
 I like it 
  October 5, 2015
awesome!:D
 I like it 
  October 5, 2015
Excellent!
 I like it 
  October 5, 2015
A very smooth build, with some nice details on the ground floor and an excellent write-up.
 I like it 
  October 5, 2015
Another magnificent MOC and history of another iconic skyscraper from you. Your work is absolutely brilliant. BOAJEWD.
 I made it 
  October 4, 2015
Quoting Sean Kenney That's my old office building next door (in the left of your real-life photo.) I had many a bagged lunch sitting in the Seagrams plaza as I avoided the terrors of cubicle life at Lehman Bros. Thanks for bringing back such rotten memories ;). Oh and great MOC btw ;)
That's too funny! At least the plaza was an escape for you. That's where I staged my Lever House MOC photoshoot. Unfortunately at the time this Seagram model was not fully developed to also bring along on the NYC trip.
 I made it 
  October 4, 2015
Quoting Rocco Buttliere I would also recommend "Seagram Building: A Dark Building" by Detlef Mertins. Just read that one for my contemporary architecture class.
I have Mertins' Mies tome which includes a nice chapter on Seagram. It's such an unwieldy book due to its shear physical size.
 I like it 
  October 4, 2015
That's my old office building next door (in the left of your real-life photo.) I had many a bagged lunch sitting in the Seagrams plaza as I avoided the terrors of cubicle life at Lehman Bros. Thanks for bringing back such rotten memories ;). Oh and great MOC btw ;)
 I like it 
  October 4, 2015
I would also recommend "Seagram Building: A Dark Building" by Detlef Mertins. Just read that one for my contemporary architecture class. Anyway, excellent model! I very much admire the effort you put into visual clarity. The plaza level reads beautifully against the building's monolithic streetfront.
 
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LEGO models my own creation MOCpages toys shop Seagram Building, New YorkLandmarks


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