Building Seagram Phyllis Lambert, Barry Bergdoll

Publication date:
16 Apr 2013
Yale University Press
320 pages: 292 x 203mm
52 color + 141 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

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 Lambert makes use of previously unpublished personal archives, company correspondence, and photographs to tell an insider’s view of the debates, resolutions, and unknown dramas of the building’s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.

"Building Seagram . . . is something of a joint biography: a history of this stately Park Avenue landmark that many consider the pinnacle of postwar architecture in New York, rendered through the lens of her vivid memories of its invention and of her privileged early years as the daughter of the liquor baron Samuel Bronfman, who founded the Seagram distilling empire. The book reveals many new details about a building that remains among the most studied of the modern era."—Mark Lamster, New York Times

"As elegant and refined as Mies van der Rohe's glass temple on New York's Park Avenue. . . . A primer on how discipline can translate to beauty."—San Francisco Chronicle

"In its own modest way, this monograph on modernism's most acclaimed tower is as elegant and refined as Mies van der Rohe's glass temple on New York's Park Avenue. The author is the daughter of one-time Seagram chairman Samuel Bronfman, who asked her to find the best architect for the job. The period photographs are exquisite; the tales of Mies at work are a primer on how discipline can translate to beauty."—John King, San Francisco Chronicle

"Lambert paints a meticulous portrait of Manhattan in the optimistic years that followed World War II, two brilliant architects at the heights of their careers, and the golden age of the American high rise."—Elle Décor

"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

"[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

Winner of the 2013 American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE), in the Architecture & Urban Planning category

Winner of the 2013 New York City Book Awards given by the New York Society Library

"[Building Seagram] should be required reading for everyone who plans to build in the public realm."—FormMagazine

"[Lambert's] handsomely illustrated book, Building Seagram (Yale University Press), chronicles a golden moment in architectural history."—Robert Fulford, National Post

"With detailed recollections, snippets of personal letters, poignant anecdotes, and sharp analyses, Lambert’s tome delivers a fascinating insider’s report of the events leading up to Seagram’s construction as well as the legacy that has followed . . . Arguably one of the most critical contributions of Building Seagram, however, is the way it illuminates the history of not just the monument itself but also the social climate in which Seagram’s extraordinary effects were felt."—Artinfo

"A fascinating account."—Metropolis

"Even if your coffee table isn’t as clean-lined and elegant as the Seagram Building, you’re going to want this book on there."—Ted Loos, Inside Sotheby’s