Choosing an alternative

The Seagram building in December 1957.

By Christopher Turner in LRB:

In 1954, the sculptor Phyllis Lambert was living in Paris when her father, Samuel Bronfman, sent her pictures of the 34-storey skyscraper he planned to build on Park Avenue in New York. Bronfman, the Canadian ‘whisky king’ who owned Seagram distillers, had commissioned Pereira & Luckman to create a gleaming metal and glass edifice that resembled a decanter gift set. ‘This letter starts with one word repeated very emphatically NO NO NO NO NO,’ Lambert responded when she saw the plans. Over eight pages she dismissed the scheme as an alienating, self-consciously futuristic ‘Flash Gordon job’. She begged her father to build something instead that ‘expresses the best of the society in which you live, and at the same time your hopes for the betterment of this society’.

Bronfman, keen to have his strong-willed daughter back from Paris, where she had gone looking for a fresh start after a short-lived marriage to a Belgian banker, gave her the job of choosing an alternative.

Read the full story here.

The Seagram building today, with its whisky coloured windows
Choosing an alternative