Ideas behind architecture projects, may not be all from architects

28Apr13

The Art of Patronage

Mies and Johnson would never have gotten to work on the Seagram Building if not for Phyllis Lambert

In the summer of 1954, a 27-year-old aspiring artist from Montreal sat down in her Paris apartment to type out a letter to her father. Her name was Phyllis Lambert. Her father was Samuel Bronfman, founder of the giant liquor company Joseph E. Seagram & Sons.

Filling eight single-spaced pages, the letter was annotated in the margins with handwritten corrections, additions, and architectural sketches. It is reproduced in full as an appendix to a new book by Lambert, Hon. FAIA, which is called, simply, Building Seagram, published by Yale University Press in April.

In the letter, she tries to convince her father that he is about to make a monumental mistake—that his plan to build a corporate headquarters for his company at Park Avenue between 52nd and 53rd streets in Manhattan is insufficiently ambitious, and that he ought to abandon it immediately. The proposed scheme, a copy of which Bronfman had mailed to his daughter a few weeks earlier, called for a 34-story tower in a style that he referred to proudly as “Renaissance Modernized.” It was to be designed by the Los Angeles–based firm Pereira and Luckman.

“This letter starts with one word repeated very emphatically NO NO NO NO NO,” Lambert wrote. “I am very disturbed and find nothing whatsoever commendable in this preliminary-as-it-may-be plan for a Seagram’s building.”

After criticizing the historical references in the proposed building as trite and saccharine (“you can’t modernize the Renaissance—you can only learn from it”), Lambert, the second-oldest of Bronfman’s four children, appealed to her father’s vanity and sense of his own legacy.

“You must put up a building which expresses the best of the society in which you live, and at the same time your hopes for the betterment of this society,” she wrote. “You have a great responsibility and your building is not only for the people of your companies, it is much more for all people, in New York and the rest of the world.”

Read the full article here

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