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Drastic changes proposed to the base of Philip Johnson’s AT&T building

November 20, 2017

In late October, the Norwegian-American architecture firm Snøhetta released renderings of Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building depicting the base stripped of its Stony Creek granite skin. In its place is an undulating glass curtain wall. It is difficult not to wince at the misguided alteration proposed for this exemplar of  Postmodernism. Reactions to the proposal were swift and came from prominent voices, including architect Denise Scott Brown and critic Paul Goldberger. Robert A.M. Stern participated in a protest in front of the building in early November. While DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State applauds the efforts to halt this, Postmodernism is not within the purview of our chapter’s mission.

The building at 550 Madison Avenue, which opened in 1984, was bought from the Chetrit Group last year by a Saudi Arabian investment group, Olayan America. Their plans for the building include renovating the office spaces and enhancing the public garden and retail at the street level. While it has passed the 30-year threshold required for consideration as a local Landmark, the building is not one. A petition has been created to urge the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission to protect the building.

Top: AT&T building main entrance, photo: Matthew Bisanz, CC BY-SA 3.0; Center: Rendering of new front entrance by Snøhetta, image via Dezeen; Bottom: side-by-side of existing and proposed entrance, image via DOCOMOMO US