Update, Aug. 1: A 500 Madison Ave. representative confirms that they have "stepped away from the design renderings that were made public [in October]. As soon as we confirm the limitations within which we will be required to work by the landmark designation, we will be able to complete our new designs and begin to engage with the public and the Landmarks Preservation Commission—a process that we are eager to begin."
Last October, Snøhetta revealed plans to overhaul the AT&T Building at 550 Madison Ave., in New York, and designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee. Aghast that the practice was planning to strip the structure's base of its iconic pink-gray granite and replace it with glass, opponents including Robert A.M Stern, FAIA, assembled to protest the plans. (One cheeky demonstrator even carried a sign that read, "Hands Off My Johnson.") However, the proposal could be called into question after the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted to designate the AT&T Building as an individual landmark today.
"I am thrilled the Commission has recognized the importance of the AT&T Corporate Headquarters Building,” said LPC vice chair Frederick Bland in a press release. “This is the building that established postmodernism as a legitimate architectural movement. It deserves to be preserved for future generations.”
At times mocked for its "Chippendale" ornamentation, the AT&T Building was built between 1978 and 1984, ushering in the era of postmodern design. The former headquarters of—you guessed it—AT&T, as well as tech giant the Sony Corp. of America, the 37-story high-rise was purchased in 2016 by developers Olayan America and Chelsfield for $1.4 billion. With Snøhetta as the lead architect, the developers released plans for a $300 million renovation to redevelop and reconfigure the lower levels of the tower, doubling public space and adding an outdoor garden.
It is unclear if the new landmark status of the structure will impact these plans, but any proposed restoration, altercation, reconstruction, demolition, or new construction that impacts protected areas would require LPC review and an LPC permit. Protected areas for the AT&T Building are the exterior façades of the office tower as well as a 1990s annex added by Sony, and exterior façades of the enclosed covered passageway, according to a LPC representative.
Owners of the the structure responded to the LPC decision in the following statement to ARCHITECT:
“We are proud that 550 Madison is now an official New York City landmark, claiming its place in our city’s architectural heritage. Ownership strongly supports designation of the iconic office tower and applauds the LPC’s decision. Since acquiring the building, we have taken our role as stewards of this important building very seriously. We look forward to an ongoing dialogue with the LPC and other stakeholders to preserve 550 Madison's legacy as a commercial Class A destination in East Midtown, with smart and sensitive modifications to serve modern tenants.”
No further information on the design plans were provided.