Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building may get landmark status after Snohetta overhaul protests

The iconic Midtown Manhattan building designed by Philip Johnson will be considered for protected landmark status – a move that would hamper a controversial $300 million renovation planned by Snohetta.

550 Madison Avenue / Photo: Wikipedia.org

Last week New York’s Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC) voted unanimously to set a date for the public hearing to give protected status to 550 Madison, commonly known as the AT&T Building.

After the hearing, which is expected to take place in a few months time, the commission will vote on whether to give the 197-meter postmodern tower protected status.

“This is probably the first and definitely the most iconic postmodern building in New York City,” Meenakshi Srinivasan, chair of the LPC, said. “I think some of us know the building is in play, so the time is right.”

The move by the LPC follows a month of public outcry over the renovation plan proposed by Oslo and New York-based architecture firm Snohetta that would see the granite base of the skyscraper replaced with a glass wall.

Photo: snohetta.com
Photo: snohetta.com
Photo: snohetta.com
Photo: snohetta.com

Guardian architecture critic Oliver Wainwright has described the proposal as “vandalism.”

Several protests and campaigns have been organized to stop the proposed plan.

“Philip Johnson's AT&T building is the defining icon of postmodern architecture and a towering tribute to the monumental masonry skyscrapers of the 1920s. It is in danger of losing its exemplary granite base, a destruction that would shatter the artistic integrity of Johnson's meticulous design,” said a petition launched on Change.org. 

Built by architect Philip Johnson and John Burgee in 1984, the 37-story high-rise was known as the Sony Tower, and prior to that the AT&T Building. Its distinctive ornamental top, resembling an open pediment, challenged the modernist paradigm and became one of the main statements of postmodern architecture.

Text: Timur Zolotoev