NYC Landmarks AT&T

John Hill
1. August 2018
Comparison of existing building and Snøhetta's proposed design, October 2017 (Image: DBOX, courtesy of Snøhetta)

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has designated the AT&T  Building, designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee in the early 1980s, as a city landmark. LPC described the building, later known as Sony Plaza and now 550 Madison Avenue, "as an icon of the Manhattan skyline and of postmodern architecture."

The designation comes exactly nine months after Olayan and Chelsfield, 550 Madison's current owner, and architecture firm Snøhetta proposed major alterations to the base of the building in an effort to create "an inviting street front" and add "high-quality amenities, world-class retail and restaurants." Although their proposal did not touch the Midtown Manhattan skyscraper's distinctive broken-pediment top, it would have removed much of the pink granite at the lower floors, exposing the interior floors and structural bracing behind wavy glass walls.

Rendering of Snøhetta's proposed renovations to 550 Madison Avenue (Image: DBOX, courtesy of Snøhetta)

Opposition to the October 2017 plans was immediate and strong, with preservationists arguing that the base, middle, and top of the building are strongly wedded, and therefore changes shouldn't be made to any part of the building. Pressure on preserving the PoMo skyscraper appears to have pushed LPC to make a relatively expedient judgment, deeming the 1984 building an individual landmark yesterday, July 31.

Although changes were made to the base by Sony with architect Charles Gwathmey in 1993, the LPC asserts in a press release that "the handsomely-executed granite facades look much as they originally did." The landmark designation means Snøhetta's plans, whatever form they take, will be subject to LPC approval, most likely pushing the firm back to the proverbial drawing board.

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