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SEAGRAM AWAITS FOSTER'S ARRIVAL

AGENDA

Somehow, Norman Foster's plans for a 62-storey tower behind the Seagram Building in New York have managed to duck the media spotlight.

Perhaps the local press is too concerned with Foster's other projects, such as the Hearst Building and his Ground Zero proposals, to worry about the potential impact of the 216m skyscraper on Mies van der Rohe's seminal office block.

If the scheme gets the go-ahead, the mixed-used hotel and apartment tower will soar nearly 60m above the Seagram Building.

Foster and Partners' design team, led by Brandon Haw, insists the skyscraper will not detract from the singular form of Mies' masterpiece, seen by many as the forerunner to thousands of copycat corporate headquarters around the world.

Backed by Aby Rosen, the owner of the Seagram Building, the scheme has already secured the unanimous support of the city's Municipal Art Society and Landmarks Preservation Commission, which approved a transfer of air rights from the eastern side of the 1958 tower.

Rosen has also promised to restore the Seagram building and its plaza on Park Avenue.

However, Foster is not the first to attempt to build on the plot, which is currently occupied by a YWCA building.

In the '70s, architect Phyllis Lambert, who picked Mies and Philip Johnson to mastermind the original Seagram project, also drew up designs for the site, but her plans for a low-rise hotel were turned down.

The daughter of Samuel Bronfman, the former president of distiller Joseph E Seagram & Sons, Lambert had been worried about air-rights issues.

Now she is unconvinced by the height of Foster's proposals: 'Foster is capable of making a very beautiful building [but] the height is of concern and the engineering of such a tall, thin building [will be] problematic.' Lambert is not alone. The city's Historic Districts Council (HDC) also feels the skyscraper 'would have a significant and negative impact on the Seagram Building'.

The organisation was worried that the new skyscraper would compete with Mies' building and damage key views of 'this internationally recognised landmark'.

Speaking about Foster's presentation image, HDC spokesman Simeon Bankoff says: 'While there [was] a depiction of the 'iconic view', it did not represent the view from across the street from, where this building would be highly visible and loom over 375 Park.' Foster argues this 'loom' effect will be dampened by the distance between the towers.

The so-called 'hidden bustle' behind Mies' block means the Foster scheme will sit at least 36m back from the original tower, a country mile in New York terms.

Whatever the concerns about the proposals, one thing is almost universally agreed on.

If anyone is to design a skyscraper on the site, Foster is the right man to do it.

Mies admirer and architectural collector Lord Palumbo is in no doubt about that: 'I would not be confident if the building was designed by almost any other hand.'

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