Tag Archives: Philip Johnson

Seagram Building

After half a century, the elegant, glowing bronze Seagram Building on Park Avenue remains a landmark in several realms: New York City, structural engineering, architectural style, corporate identity, personal achievement and more.

New York City’s Landmark Preservation Commission bestowed landmark status on October 3, 1989, recognizing the structure as an architectural treasure. In terms of structural engineering, the steel-and-concrete dual framing system was the first of its kind for a tall building, and the first tall building to use high-strength bolts (instead of rivets). The architectural style – International Style – had become the mode for new office buildings. (Though New York’s first curtain wall structure following Mies van der Rohe’s principles – Lever House – stood across the street.) To achieve the purity of the design, Seagram president Samuel Bronfman purchased enough land to create a large plaza (avoiding the typical wedding cake setbacks of other tall buildings) and budgeted for a lavish bronze and glass curtain wall. The 38-story tower is Mies van der Rohe’s only New York project – but it is considered his finest.

The Seagram Building’s bronze glow is achieved through tinted glass, backed by ceiling light panels all around. Mies even dictated three-position (fully open, half open, fully closed) window blinds with slats fixed at 45 degrees, to ensure a uniform appearance. As Mies would say, “God is in the details.”

The building’s owners change the plaza sculptures periodically, and provide occasional concerts.

Seagram Building Vital Statistics
  • Location: 375 Park Avenue between E 52nd and E 53rd Streets
  • Year completed: 1958
  • Architect: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Philip Johnson, design architects with Kahn & Jacobs, associate architects
  • Floors: 38
  • Style: International
  • New York City Landmark: 1989
  • National Register of Historic Places: 2006
Seagram Building Suggested Reading

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Lipstick Building

The Lipstick Building – officially named “53rd at Third” – is New York’s most distinctive architecture; its shape and color are impossible to confuse with any other skyscraper.

The developer, Gerald D. Hines Interests, asked for a shape that would stand out – and make “every office a corner office.” Hines, incidentally, was also the developer of curvilicious One Jackson Square and flare-topped 425 Lexington Avenue.

Architect Philip Johnson likely didn’t need much encouragement – he designed the Sony Building (originally AT&T headquarters), nicknamed the “Chippendale Building” for its massive split pediment roofline.

The rationale for such a dramatic and expensive building (polished red granite doesn’t come cheap) was to attract high-rent tenants to the then (1986) less-desirable neighborhood. Apparently that strategy didn’t quite work: the building’s owners went bankrupt in 2010.

Although the so-called Lipstick Building is best known for its 34-story elliptical telescoping shaft, there’s a nine-story box behind the shaft that is also part of the site. The box for the lipstick?

Of historical note: This is where Bernie Madoff made off with $65 billion. His companies leased the 17th through 19th floors.

Lipstick Building Vital Statistics
Lipstick Building Recommended Reading

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