By Docomomo US/New York - Tristate
On Wednesday, June 15th, the Docomomo US New York/Tri-State chapter celebrated the legacy of the iconic, Philip Johnson-designed Four Seasons Restaurant in Manhattan with their second biannual fundraising event, A Modern Affair. This event was designed to build on the success of the chapter’s first fundraiser, held in 2014 at the Alvar Aalto Rooms of the Edgar J. Kaufmann Conference Center, and to benefit the preservation education and advocacy efforts of the chapter. A Modern Affair also offered an opportunity to honor Phyllis Lambert, whose vision enabled the creation of the landmark interior space.
The Four Seasons Restaurant opened in 1959 within The Seagram Building, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe with Philip Johnson (design architects) and Kahn & Jacobs (associate architects), which had been completed a year earlier. Johnson led the design effort for the restaurant, collaborating with artists such as Richard Lippold (brass sculpture), L. Garth and Ada Louise Huxtable (tableware), and Richard Kelly (lighting). It is among a relatively small number of designated New York City interior landmarks, and has remained remarkably intact since its completion.
In May 2015, the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission rejected a plan by the owner to make certain alterations to the interiors. Docomomo US New York/Tri-State testified on behalf of preserving the interior spaces. Recently, it was announced that the restaurant would close on July 16 after nearly sixty years and move to a new location. The furniture, not protected by the interior designation, will be auctioned on July 26, and a new restaurant will subsequently be opened in the space. A Modern Affair represented a final opportunity to see The Four Seasons space firsthand before any alterations are undertaken.
Well over a hundred Docomomo members, supporters, out-of-town visitors and luminaries attended the celebration, enjoying cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and plenty of sparkling conversation. Event co-chairs Meredith Arms Bzdak and Tami Hausman, together with chapter president and committee member John Arbuckle, welcomed guests. Architect Elizabeth Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro (designers of the former Brasserie Restaurant at the lower level of the Seagram Building, which closed at the end of 2015) provided introductory remarks that demonstrated her genuine affection for the space and the honoree. The highlight of the evening was, of course, Phyllis Lambert, who offered her own observations and recollections on the making of The Four Seasons. It was truly a special night, and one that will likely live on in the memories of those who attended, as will The Four Seasons, one of New York’s most esteemed Modern places.