Preservation Issues

LPC Calendars Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building

-AT&T Building at 550 Madison Avenue

-Philip Johnson holding a model of the AT&T building for Time Magazine

UPDATE: January 2018
AT&T Building Gets Additional Support

Advocates for preserving Philip Johnson’s iconic AT&T Building gained additional support this past week when the New York State Historic Preservation Office (NYSHPO) determined that the former AT&T Headquarters Building at 550 Madison Avenue meets the criteria for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The determination noted: “Postmodernism is an important chapter in American architecture and the AT&T Building contributes to this legacy.” This eligibility evaluation resulted from a request made by the Conservancy and is the first step to listing on the National Registers, underscoring the national importance of this significant structure.

Following efforts led by Robert A.M. Stern, the Conservancy and others, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has calendared the AT&T Building for individual landmark designation which will be bolstered by the NYSHPO determination of eligibility.

November 2017

The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) calendared Philip Johnson’s famous AT&T Building on Madison Avenue after the Conservancy and other preservationists demanded quick action to save the building from drastic changes proposed for its exterior.

In a November 6 letter to LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan, the Conservancy noted that the building “is one of the first and best known symbols of the post-modern movement and is the only major example in the City.” (read full letter) Architect Robert A.M. Stern helped galvanize opposition to the proposed changes and demand for preserving the building.

Johnson and his partner John Burgee designed the building in 1978. It was completed in 1984. The classicist design, known for its “Chippendale” top, was a rebuke to the stark functionalism of modernist orthodoxy. It was all the more startling because Johnson was a seminal figure in modernism and had promoted the work of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe.

The current owners, Olayan America, proposed replacing the lower portion of the rose-gray granite exterior with a glass curtain wall to highlight the ground floor retail area. Architectural critics have praised the “power” of the original design, with the granite extending to the ground. The re-design proposal by Snohetta would also take down a back annex and create a public garden.

The building’s 660-foot tower, surmounted by its distinctive broken pediment, and entered through a spectacular seven-story arch, was at a cutting edge of architectural theory and design. It earned Johnson a Time Magazine cover picturing the architect holding a model of the building. It also generated controversy from modernist architects who denounced the building as “an outrage.”

The Conservancy feels that landmark designation would allow the LPC to guide any future alterations to the building while protecting the integrity of Johnson’s design.