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Work finally starts on Fosters' new Seagram neighbour

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Construction has finally begun on Foster + Partner’s long-awaited 61-storey skyscraper behind Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building in New York

The residential tower at 610 Lexington Avenue, which was first revealed eight years ago as a mixed-used hotel and apartment tower, will be 60m taller than its 1958 neighbour.

Replacing the old YWCA building in Midtown Manhattan, the project is backed by Aby Rosen - the owner of the Seagram Building - and Chinese residential property developer Vanke.

When the proposal was first in 2006 unveiled it came in for criticism from Phyllis Lambert, the daughter of Samuel Bronfman, the former president of distiller Joseph E Seagram & Sons. Lambert, who worked with Mies van der Rohe on the Seagram Building, had fears about the height of the Fosters’ scheme and feared the ‘engineering of such a tall, thin building [would be] problematic.’

Chris Connell, a partner at Foster + Partners admitted the tower was very slender but claimed the design had a ‘timeless beauty’ and that the scheme had been considered as part of the wider tableau.

He said: ‘It’s not simply about our new tower, but the composition it creates with one of the 20th century’s greatest buildings.  Sitting alongside the dark bronze of the Seagram Building, our tower will have a crisp undulating skin. Its proportions appear impossibly slim and the views will be just incredible,”

Connell added: ‘Simplicity of design is often the hardest thing to achieve, but in a sophisticated market, people appreciate the timeless beauty that comes from it. 

‘Our design philosophy has always been holistic, extending from the overall architecture to the quality of individual details – the interiors will blend seamlessly with the exterior approach.’

Foster + Partners' proposed new skyscraper behind Mies van der Rohe's Seagram building (February 2006)

Foster + Partners’ proposed new skyscraper behind Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram building (February 2006)

The architect’s view

‘This 61-storey residential tower at 610 Lexington Avenue continues the practice’s investigations into the nature of the tall building in New York, exploring the dynamic between the city and its skyline. Located on the corner of Lexington and 53rd Street, it replaces the old YWCA building in Midtown Manhattan.

‘Formally, it responds to the precedent set by two neighbouring twentieth-century Modernist icons – SOM’s 21-storey Lever House of 1952 and Mies van der Rohe’s 38-storey Seagram Building of 1958. In the spirit of Mies’s philosophy of rationality, simplicity and clarity, the tower has a slender, minimalist geometric form, designed to complement these distinguished neighbours.

‘The entrance is recessed beneath a canopy that sits harmoniously alongside the entrance and pavilion of the Seagram Building. The entry sequence continues on a single plane from the street to reveal a glazed atrium that joins the tower to a smaller building on the right. The smaller building houses a bar and restaurant, a spa and swimming pool, the tower contains lounge areas and apartment levels. From the floor of the atrium, the tower rises up like a soaring vertical blade, the view up creating a sense of drama and reinforcing the connection between the summit and the ground.

‘Some of the larger apartments occupy the entire floor area of the higher levels. The tower’s slender form creates a narrow floor plate, allowing the interior spaces to be flooded with daylight and creating spectacular views across the city from every side. An innovative glazed skin wraps around the building, concealing the structural elements which are further masked beneath integratedshadow boxes. To preserve the smooth appearance of the facade, opening vents in the glazing flap discreetly inwards. The effect is a sheer envelope that shines in brilliant contrast to the dark bronze of the Seagram building.’


Previous story (AJ 09.02.2006)

Seagram awaits Foster’s arrival

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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