Building Seagram Phyllis Lambert, Barry Bergdoll

Publication date:
15 Jan 2013
320 pages: 254 x 178 x 27mm
52 colour images + 141 b&w illustrations

The Seagram building rises over New York’s Park Avenue, seeming to float above the street with perfect lines of bronze and glass. Considered one of the greatest icons of twentieth-century architecture, the building was commissioned by Samuel Bronfman, founder of the Canadian distillery dynasty Seagram. Bronfman’s daughter Phyllis Lambert was twenty-seven years old when she took over the search for an architect and chose Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969), a pioneering modern master of what he termed 'skin and bones' architecture. Mies, who designed the elegant, deceptively simple thirty-eight-story tower along with Philip Johnson (1906–2005), emphasized the beauty of structure and fine materials, and set the building back from the avenue, creating an urban oasis with the building’s plaza. Through her choice, Lambert established her role as a leading architectural patron and singlehandedly changed the face of American urban architecture.

Building Seagram is a comprehensive personal and scholarly history of a major building and its architectural, cultural, and urban legacies. Lambert makes use of previously unpublished personal archives, company correspondence, and photographs to tell an insider’s view of the debates, resolutions, and unknown dramas of the building’s construction, as well as its crucial role in the history of modern art and architectural culture.

Phyllis Lambert is founding director of the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. A licensed architect, she has contributed essays to numerous books and is the subject of the 2007 documentary film Citizen Lambert: Joan of Architecture. Barry Bergdoll is professor of architectural history in the department of art history and archaeology at Columbia University and the Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

"This history of Mies van der Rohe’s New York masterpiece makes use of numerous unpublished archives from the Canadian Centre for architecture in Montreal, where the author is founding director." Building Design, 21st December 2012

“[An] extraordinary historical study. . . . The voice is authoritative, the facts established by research, and the story fascinating.”—Anthony Vidler, Architectural Review

“Her account captures some of the excitement one feels when one approaches the slender tower for the first time.”—Christopher Turner, London Review of Books