Controversial Snøhetta Plans for Philip Johnson's AT&T Headquarters Halted by Landmark Designation

Work on the Snøhetta-designed renovation of 550 Madison Avenue, better known as the AT&T Headquarters, has ground to a halt in New York City. The controversial postmodernist icon, designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgree, has become the youngest building in New York to receive "Individual Landmark" status by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), striking a blow to controversial efforts to renovate the building.

Under major renovation plans designed by Snøhetta, the scheme was set to be transformed at street level with a more transparent base, with the existing stone façade removed. Meanwhile, the signature ground floor element, an enormous arched entry, would be rendered a shadowy profile of its former self behind a fritted glass curtain wall. The plans attracted wide criticism, such as an intervention on film by Robert A M Stern, and grassroots campaigns including docomomo and

Comparison between the existing scheme and proposed renovations. Image Courtesy of DBOX

Described by the LPC as “one of the most important postmodernist buildings in the world,” the AT&T Headquarters on 550 Madison Avenue has been a dramatic, iconic, controversial part of the Manhattan skyline since its opening in 1984. With powerful forms drawn from classic references and a pinkish-grey granite facade, it signified a departure from modern architecture and ushered in a new era of postmodernism.

Proposed alteration . Image Courtesy of DBOX

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 Landmarks Preservation Commission’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.
-550 Madison Ownership

The AT&T Headquarters on Madison Avenue. Image © David Shankbone

The process of preserving the building through a landmark designation has been in the works for some time, with an application to schedule a hearing granted in November 2017. Although work on the demolition of the building’s lobby began in January 2018, the LPC’s ruling is a significant victory for those advocating for the building’s preservation.

In anticipation of the landmark designation for the exterior, we are preparing plans for the building that strike a balance, respecting 550 Madison’s importance while addressing these challenges. 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. In the interim, I want to be clear that we have stepped away from the design renderings that were made public a few months ago.
-Seth Pinsky, RXR Realty, Remarks at June 19th LPC Hearing 

You can learn more about the original renovation plans here.

News via: New York Landmarks Preservation Commission

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Cite: Niall Patrick Walsh. "Controversial Snøhetta Plans for Philip Johnson's AT&T Headquarters Halted by Landmark Designation" 02 Aug 2018. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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