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Four Seasons revamp turned down by NYC landmarks commission

Aby Rosen’s controversial plans to bring the 1958 restaurant “back to its original glory” met with opposition from architects and preservationists

The property developer and collector Aby Rosen has been denied permission to revamp the landmarked Four Seasons restaurant, housed in the Seagram building, which he owns. The Art Newspaper reported last week of Rosen’s plans to “bring it back to its original glory”.

New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has only approved changes to the carpet, however, denying all other renovations proposed by Rosen and his real estate company, RFR Holding.

The plans, designed by the architect Annabelle Seldorf, were presented to the commission on Tuesday, 19 May. A group of architects who voiced their opposition at the meeting included Phyllis Lambert, who is both the founding director emeritus of the Canadian Center for Architecture and the daughter of Samuel Bronfman, whose company was responsible for the original construction of the Seagram building.

In an opinion-editorial in the New York Times last weekend, Lambert called the planned renovations “disastrous”, arguing that, if approved by the commission, the changes “would do more than ruin a hallmark of Modern architecture. They would undermine the meaning of landmark preservation in America.”

The restaurant’s interior is mostly unchanged from its 1958 design by the architect Philip Johnson, and had been designated a landmark in 1989. Rosen had told The Art Newspaper recently that he wanted to “fix some of the functionality issues; the place was created 60 years ago and not everything works, so I’m going to freshen up, make it a really cool space and bring back some of the old-style service”.

Responding to yesterday’s ruling, Rosen said in a statement: “RFR will work with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to restore the Landmarked Seagram Building restaurant space to its original brilliance and reinvigorate every architectural and design detail to make sure it pays homage to the original intentions, and elevate it to modern standards. We will inject new life into a restaurant that has grown stale after 55 years.”