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Alterations to the Philip Johnson masterpiece should not proceed
The Four Seasons restaurant is a rare bird. While more than 31,000 buildings in New York City have been extended protection by the Landmarks Preservation Commission by virtue of their location in a historic district, and more than 1,300 buildings have been declared individual landmarks, only 117 interiors have been recognized as being worthy of the same treatment. But the Four Seasons, designated an interior landmark in 1989, is something rarer still—not only one of the great spaces in the city but one of the greatest Modernist interiors in the world. And that is precisely why we have to tread especially carefully in allowing any changes to Philip Johnson’s internationally recognized architectural masterpiece of 1958.
I fear the alterations proposed by Aby Rosen and Michael Fuchs of RFR Holding LLC, which acquired the building in 2000, to be the subject of a hearing before the Landmarks Preservation Commission on May 19, do more than simply tweak and freshen a detail here and there but instead threaten to fundamentally alter the character of this incomparably dignified setting for dining, a meticulous and brilliant composition where every detail was carefully considered, from the design of custom tabletop items to the placement of trees.
Located in the landmarked Seagram Building (1958), 375 Park Avenue, an icon of the International style designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in collaboration with Johnson and Kahn & Jacobs, the Four Seasons is composed of two grand and unrivaled twenty-foot-high, column-free, terraced spaces: the Pool Room and the Grill Room. Although largely the work of Johnson, the design team included other distinguished professionals, including interior decorator William Pahlmann; the pioneering Modernist lighting specialist Richard Kelly, whose sophisticated scheme could be adjusted to complement the time of day and season; and textile designer Marie Nichols, whose gold-anodized aluminum chain curtains felicitously flutter as currents of air rise from concealed ventilating ducts to create an effect of shimmering golden light. The restaurant is lavishly appointed with beautiful materials, and over the years has been home to masterworks of modern art. […]