The beaux arts and art deco architectural styles were succeeded after World War II by a functional style that revolutionized skyscrapers for the balance of the century. Completed in 1958, the Seagram Building, architected by Mies van der Rohe, led this revolution.
Van der Rohe said “less is more”. The more I’ve heard this maxim, the less understood it, but seeing the Seagram Building helped. The Seagram Building is notable for the public plaza created by a small building footprint and a simple building without decoration.
The above photo, taken from the sidewalk, shows the expansive pool and plaza formed by setting back the building from the sidewalk. In contrast, the other buildings we saw were built out to the sidewalk and then stepped back by making the building progressively narrower. Except for the Rockefeller Center, a collection of buildings, no other New York City buildings provided a public space in 1958. We sat by the pool, had some water and a snack, and enjoyed the open space. Less footprint means more public open space.
Van der Rohe recovered space for the plaza by designing the building without step backs, so that the building is shaped like a rectangular slab and the each floor has the same area. The more open space is recovered by less (no) step backs, maximizing office space without making the building taller.
The Seagram Building is constructed of the metal and glass, without extraneous ornamentation. The clean lines and rhythm of windows has its own beauty.
Design is deciding what is important and trading the less important for more of what’s important. Less is more.