Groundbreaking Architecture

The Seagram Building.  Completed in 1958 to house the headquarters of Canadian distillers Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, solely thanks to Phyllis Lambert, the daughter of Samuel Bronfman, Seagram’s CEO, a young sculptor at the time, who later on became an architect herself.

Unhappy with the initial design of the skyscraper her father intended to have built, Phyllis took control of the project, contacted Philip Johnson – who was about to quit his post as director of the architecture department at the Museum of Modern Art to devote himself fully to his architectural practice, and together they enlisted Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, an architect largely regarded as one of the pioneers of modernist architecture. They went on to change Manhattan’s office architecture forever.

The Seagram, built of a steel frame and large non-structural glass walls, became the prototype for future office buildings that largely define Manhattan’s skyline today; buildings that look rather similar yet not quite the same.

There is a reason for this: Mies intended for the steel frame to be visible, but American building codes required that structural steel be covered in a fireproof material, usually concrete, which – if used – would hide the structure, the exact opposite of Mies’ plans. In order to comply, Mies used bronze to create bronze-toned I-beams, which would follow the structural frame that is underneath. These are the beams you see running vertically along the glass windows, a method that has been copied countless times since – although it never seems to be as aesthetically successful as on the Seagram.

But this was not the only pioneering feature implemented on the Seagram: in a move that would differentiate himself from the then architectural establishment, Mies had the whole building set back 100 feet (about 30,5 metres) from the street, creating a large marble plaza which became a very popular gathering area. It also set an example and in 1961, when New York City proposed a revision to its 1916 Zoning Resolution, it included incentives for developers to create similar public spaces.

So, whenever you take a break in one of these cool public spaces within and in-between high buildings in Manhattan, that’s who you have to give your thanks to.

Meanwhile, in the country I grew up knowing as Yugoslavia: ”architects responded to contradictory demands and influences, developing a postwar architecture both in line with and distinct from the design approaches seen elsewhere in Europe and beyond. The architecture that emerged—from International Style skyscrapers to Brutalist “social condensers”—is a manifestation of the radical diversity, hybridity, and idealism that characterized the Yugoslav state itself. Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980 introduces the exceptional work of socialist Yugoslavia’s leading architects to an international audience for the first time, highlighting a significant yet thus-far understudied body of modernist architecture, whose forward-thinking contributions still resonate today.” [source]

Milan Mihelič
S2 Office Tower, Ljubljana, Slovenia
1972-28, Model

Andrija Mutnjaković
National and University Library of Kosovo, Pristina, 1971-82
Exterior view, 2016

Andrija Mutnjaković
National and University Library of Kosovo, Pristina, 1971-82
Μodel, 1:200, 2017-18

Poster for Janko Konstantinov retrospective, 1984
Collage of different building projects, including the Counter Hall of the Telecommunications Center in the background

Janko Konstantinov
Telecommunications Centre, Skopje, North Macedonia, 1968-81
Perspective, Print on tracing paper

Kenzō Tange and team, working on the Skopje master plan, 1965

Vjenceslav Richter
Reliefometar (Reliefmetre) 1964

Yugoslav pavillion at the International Labour Exhibition, Turin, Italy

Vjenceslav Richter
Yugoslav Pavilion at Expo 58, Brussels, Belgium

Milan Mihelič
Stoteks Department Store, Novi Sad, Serbia, 1968-72
South elevation, 1:50

Jože Plečnik
Slovenian Parliament, Ljubljana, 1947-48
Model 1:100

Juraj Neidhardt
Residential Neighbourhoods for Socialist City, 1969

Janez Lenassi (sculptor) & Živa Baraga (architect)
Monument to the Fighters Fallen in the People’s Liberation Struggle
Ilirska Bistrica, Slovenia, 1965

Iskra Grabul & Jordan Grabul
Monument to the Ilinden Uprising, Kruševo, North Macedonia, 1970-73

Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980,  was an exhibition @MoMA that ran between July 2018–January 2019.

In 1992, following a series of political and economical crises, Yugoslavia broke up into six independent countries: Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia and North Macedonia.

The Seagram Building is located at 375 Park Avenue, between 52nd & 53rd Streets, in Midtown Manhattan.

July 24th, 2018

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