Posts tagged with "Philip Johnson":

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Just how much of a Nazi was Philip Johnson?

In The Man in the Glass House, released today, author Mark Lamster puts some meat on the bones of rumors of Philip Johnson’s many muddled improprieties. “I’m a whore,” Johnson was known to proclaim, and from his curation of the first show on modernism at the Museum of Modern Art in 1932 to his willingness to let Donald Trump "Make Philip Johnson Great Again" (after the architect’s falling out with the partners that launched his second coming as a postmodernist), Johnson has proved to be American architecture and design’s most storied strumpet. He played whatever role he wished without much consequence. A gossip but also an intellectual, it is easy to picture Johnson among today’s Elon Musks or Kanye Wests, a man of power fueled on provocation, publicity, and greasy alliances with often hollow reasoning and confusing motivations. Would he quote this and retweet it?  Absolutely. Most sensational is Johnson’s interest in the Nazis, beginning in the early 1930s with an excitable viewing of a Hitler Youth rally in Berlin, continuing with an essay titled Architecture of the Third Reich, and the design of a grandstand for a noted anti-Semitic Catholic Priest. While in Germany in the late 1930s, Johnson dined with Nazi financiers, telling the FBI later that the meals were “purely social.” Johnson hoped that the Nazis would jump on his idealized design agenda, but he would ultimately be unsatisfied by their disinterest. In the 1950s, Johnson would denounce his association with the Nazi party and partially atone for it by designing Israel's Soreq Nuclear Research Center and later the Kneses Tifereth Israel Synagogue and forgoing his fee, a hollow gesture considering Johnson’s lifelong wealth. He would later justify his attraction to the Nazis in sexual terms, having more to do with his homoerotic fascination of their uniforms than their ideology. AN has compiled the following quotes from The Man in the Glass House that provide insight into his Nazi past: "The Nazis were 'Daylight into the ever-darkening atmosphere of contemporary America.'” Philip Johnson, pg. 165 “Submission to an artistic dictator is better than an anarchy of selfish personal opinion.” PJ, pg. 93 “Later he would rather unconvincingly justify his attraction to the Nazis in sexual terms, as a kind of homoerotic fascination with the Nazi aesthetic: all those chiseled blond men in jackboots and pressed uniforms. It was easier to whitewash sexual desire than the egregious social and political ideas that truly captivated him.”Mark Lamster, pg. 114 PJ on witnessing bombings in Poland: “the German green uniforms made the place look gay and happy.” PJ, pg. 179 “At the time he believed, however naively, that National Socialism might still be reconciled with modernism. He outlined this position in an essay, 'Architecture in the Third Reich,' that Lincoln Kirsten published in the October 1933 issue of Hound & Horn. Johnson conceded that the Bauhaus was 'Irretrievably' tarnished by its association with Communism, but suggested Mies was an 'apolitical figure who would satisfy the new craving for monumentality' while proving that 'the new Germany is not bent on destroying all the modern acts which have been bent up in recent years.' Hitler’s racist and menacing rhetoric, that he might be bent on destroying more than just modern art, was left unmentioned.” ML, pg. 118 “Johnson hoped that the Nazis would come around to the monumental power and abstract beauty of the Miesian aesthetic, and in that wish he would always be disappointed.” ML, pg. 94 “When interviewed in 1942, Johnson’s former secretary Ruth Merrill told the FBI that Johnson believed 'the fate of the country' rested on his shoulders, and that he wanted to be the ‘Hitler’ in the United States.”  ML, pg. 139 “Johnson would later admit to the FBI that he attended American Nazi Party rallies at Madison Square Garden, and became a financial benefactor of the Christian Mobilizers, an anti-Semitic organization of street brawlers.” ML, pg. 169 “We seem to forget, also, that we live in a community of people to which we are bound by the ties of existence, to some of whom we owe allegiance and obedience and to others of whom we owe leadership and instruction.”  PJ, pg. 163 “A more plausible scenario is that Johnson was exchanging information on the activities, politics, and membership of American fascist circles, and discussing the means by which the Germans might disseminate their propaganda. According to records captured after the war, the Nazi diplomats were specifically interested in obtaining mailing lists and names of individuals who might be sympathetic to their cause…Johnson, who had built a network of nationalist supporters in both Ohio and New York, was in a position to deliver precisely that type of material. Indeed, Johnson had been keeping confidential lists of would-be supporters since April 1934, when he instructed his private secretary, Ruth Merrill, to take names at the first fascist gathering at the duplex apartment he shared in New York with his sister.” ML, pg. 165
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San Antonio’s architecture has a bright future illuminated by a rich heritage

When it comes to notable architecture in Texas, it would seem strange to place San Antonio on par with Houston or Dallas. As the second-largest city in the state, San Antonio seems to only mimic the kind of architectural largesse seen in those cities. There are plenty of jewel-like late modern skyscrapers and austere civic buildings by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, Caudill Rowlett Scott, and Marmon Mok in the city, but these are not the kinds of projects one would mention in the same breath as Houston landmarks like Johnson/Burgee’s Pennzoil Place and Williams Tower, Renzo Piano’s sublime Menil Collection, or Fort Worth's iconic Kimbell Art Museum by Louis Kahn. A selective itinerary of San Antonio’s past and future architectural projects reveals a steady commitment to buildings with bold, expressive forms that reference the city’s unique environment, history, and culture. Alamo City warmed up to these compelling architectural additions as it expanded during the late 1940s and early ’50s, and became a home to energy and utility companies during the 1970s and ’80s. Funded by philanthropic organizations and influxes of oil cash, many of these buildings are now hidden by giant, swooping highway overpasses, corporate plazas, and other developer-driven projects. Despite the earlier innovative and controversial projects, San Antonio remains overlooked. This will soon change. Newly appointed mayor Ronald Nirenberg has re-energized discussions about creating new housing, battling gentrification, and committing to more public art. This will certainly place a spotlight on San Antonio’s rich architectural offerings while reminding us of how these and other past projects have embodied this city’s distinctive topography, Latino heritage, and dry, arid environment. Emilio Ambasz’s Lucile Halsell Conservatory, completed in 1988 at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens, is a good starting point. Located on the city’s northeast side, Ambasz’s scheme took advantage of the sunken site with a series of prismlike canopies that appear to rise out of the bermed earth like upturned shards of glass. Each canopy creates its own kind of climate and features particular plant ecologies—architecture designed, as Paul Goldberger observed in 1987, for the interaction between plants and humans. The project is notable for its combination of building, landscape, and infrastructure into a seamless whole. The Lucile Halsell Conservatory accommodated some very particular environmental and topographical conditions, and did so with a formal and technological expressiveness unlike anything that had been built in San Antonio. Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta’s San Antonio Central Library, completed in 1995, continues in this vein. Here, cubic volumes are stacked at various angles, creating a series of triangular-shaped courtyards intended to be outdoor reading rooms. Legorreta’s debt to Mexican architect Luis Barragán’s minimalist polychromy is clear. Working with the painter Mathias Goéritz, Barragán created spaces framed by walls and surfaces doused in highly saturated reds, blues, yellows, oranges, magentas, and pinks. At his Central Library, Legorreta appears to invert Barragán with a simple, playful interplay of volumes that seem to be wrought from its own color palette as well. The reddish-brown colored cubes appear gutted in some places, revealing inner planes of yellow, blue, and purple. When viewed from the air, the Central Library appears otherworldly, framing circular plazas made from grass and limestone and located on a triangular-shaped site near the geographical center of the city, as if something from another time had arrived here. That a Mexican architect was chosen for this project is important. As the seventh-largest city in the United States, San Antonio has one of the biggest Spanish-speaking populations. Over 62 percent of its residents are of Latino origin. The appeal of Legorreta’s Central Library stemmed as much from the need for more public libraries as it did from the desire to reflect the city’s heritage. Though this was the first building in San Antonio designed specifically to reflect the city’s Mexican-American heritage, there are older buildings that expressed the cultural richness so important to the city. The Alamo and the four Spanish Missions (recently designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites) all combine Spanish and Catholic influences while referring to the rituals and structures of indigenous peoples. This is to say that San Antonio’s architecture continues to find a way to embody its venerable cultural geography. It also incorporates its distinct environmental geography. San Antonio is a city hewn from mesquite-dappled hills, limestone quarries, and deep-set aquifers. Lake|Flato continues to be the standard-bearer among the city’s firms for a kind of tectonic and environmental sensitivity that is immediately recognizable for its ingenious references to these conditions. Imagine a version of John Lautner’s spacious geometric forms where large cornices made from corrugated metal peer over meticulous compositions of glass, limestone, slats, and brise-soleil made from local woods, all culminating in views that privilege the rolling, arid mesquite and persimmon landscapes of the Texas Hill Country. This would not do justice to Lake|Flato’s work, but perhaps it is as close as we can get to a kind of South Texas regionalism. Yet some of Lake|Flato’s current work points to something altogether different. Their recently completed pavilion at Confluence Park designed in collaboration with Matsys connects the joining of the San Antonio River and San Pedro Creek, to nearby Mission Concepción, an 18th-century basilica. This is a highly-charged site in predominantly Spanish-speaking South San Antonio. The most visually arresting parts of Lake|Flato’s project are the concrete “petals” that reference the local flora while reminding the most architecturally astute observer of Spanish-born Mexican engineer Felix Candela’s sweeping hyperboloid structures, like Los Manantiales Restaurant (1958) in Mexico City’s Xochimilco Park, or the Chapel Lomas de Cuernavaca (also 1958) in Cuernavaca. Confluence Park is also part of the larger San Pedro Creek Cultural Park. This scheme is projected to transform a once-neglected 2.2-mile-long drainage spur into a cultural attraction with water features, public art, and areas dedicated to the preservation of local grasses and wildlife. In a nod to its aspirations, lead architect Henry R. Muñoz and others have embraced this project’s more common nickname—the “Latino High Line”—which may say more about Diller Scofidio + Renfro/Field Operation’s celebrated scheme than the actual goal of the project, which is to create a version of the Riverwalk devoid of its tourist traffic while celebrating Latino heritage. Urban designers are finding new ways to move San Antonio forward while referring to curious artifacts from the history of American cities. Architect Antonio Petrov, who teaches at the University of Texas at San Antonio and is the founder of Urban Future Lab, is one of the most outspoken voices when it comes to redevelopment in the city. He is a proponent of bringing back skyrides, which were already used during HemisFair ’68 as a means of connecting the city’s downtown with San Antonio International Airport. Petrov’s proposal, though evocative of pie-in-the-sky urban transportation schemes, is to be taken seriously. Similar proposals were actually in use at the 1932 Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago as well as in Disneyland and Disney World (which were, in a sense, attempts to envision cities of the future.) Other schemes, though funded by corporate dollars and serious placemaking advocacy firms, are barely more pragmatic in their approach. A case in point is the proposed Alamo Plaza Redevelopment. Philadelphia-based Preservation Design Partnership authored one of the first master plans, a scheme that caused controversy when it called for relocating many of the businesses surrounding the Alamo and converting them to privately run cultural attractions. Current versions of the plan have done little to improve on the previous proposal. For example, the recent Alamo Comprehensive Interpretive Plan—spearheaded by St. Louis–based “placemaking” firm Peckham Guyton Albers & Viets; the heritage consulting firm Cultural Innovations; and landscape architects Reed Hilderbrand—still hinges on the creation of a pedestrian-friendly “Alamo District” designed to turn this historically charged site into an open-air museum. A previous scheme took this idea a step further by encircling the Alamo with a glass wall, as if preserving this architectural artifact in a kind of amber. There are plenty of other projects that are reenergizing the architectural scene in San Antonio. The city is in a bit of a gut-rehab frenzy, as landmarks like the Pearl and Lone Star Breweries have been renovated as pricey hotels and higher-end restaurants, all with the end goal of molding San Antonio into a destination for design-savvy millennials with money to burn, in hopes they will ditch an Airbnb in the picturesque King William District in favor of the Hotel Emma’s posh industrial-chic. It is in this milieu that Adjaye Associates’ Ruby City arrives as one of the most exciting projects to break ground in the Alamo City. This 14,000-square-foot gallery and contemporary arts center—scheduled to open later this year near the city’s burgeoning arts district—appears as a strange hybrid, part OMA Casa da Musica, part Legorreta Central Library. Adjaye’s building appears as a literal jewel, a faceted brick-red form whose speckled, punctured surfaces make it seem fleeting and otherworldly. But it is anything but that, for this building, which sits precariously on the edge of the one-acre CHRISpark in downtown San Antonio, will anchor the San Pedro Creek redevelopment scheme, and provide the Linda Pace Foundation’s extensive collection of modern and contemporary art with a bold, exciting home. Adjaye is still earning accolades for his groundbreaking National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and with Ruby City soon to be completed, this will be the most significant architectural gesture for San Antonio—one that will hopefully inspire an influx of more commissions and projects of a similar caliber. How should we look at San Antonio’s architectural legacies and gestures? It is tempting to stack them up against those in Houston or Dallas, but in doing so, we would risk ignoring how one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States is busy generating its own architectural identity. Don’t call it haphazard, however. The pace of architectural developments in San Antonio may appear slow, but like the city, its architecture is humming busily from what once was an undetectable purr to something greater. This sleepy South Texas city is anything but, and its architecture will demonstrate how this is the case.
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Initial notes on Houston after theory

1 We landed in Houston two weeks before the storm. For newcomers to Texas, Hurricane Harvey provided a terrifying crash course in the geography and hydrology of the city, its micro-differences in topography and macro-differences in resources across the city’s communities. We were told that after the water receded, nothing would be the same, that the magnitude and destruction of the storm would simply be too hard to ignore. Yet less than a year later, as rebuilding continues on the verge of another hurricane season, it is hard to see how much—if anything—has changed for the better. Money was spent reconstructing homes on their original sites, and large-scale infrastructures that were designed to flood, like Buffalo Bayou Park, have performed admirably well as examples for designing resilient landscapes in Houston and elsewhere. A slew of well-intentioned policy reports were issued in the wake of Harvey, many reiterating similar proposals that preceded the storm, seemingly to little avail. The heuristic measures of the so-called 500-year event were questioned in light of a new reality in which such mega-storms will now be separated by years, not centuries. And then the city went back, it seems, to the combination of development and dread that has apparently become the new normal. 2 I came to Houston expecting to tap into a rich body of urban writing from the late 1970s to the 2000s that placed the city firmly at the center of broader attempts to theorize the contemporary metropolis. These formed part of what Joel Warren Barna described as “a long American tradition of minority reports” in which the social, political, economic, and psychological dimensions of architecture and the city were probed. Houston’s horizontal field provided an ideal environment for such speculations. For Joe Feagin, it offered the example par excellence of the “free enterprise city,” a case study of the unceasing urban transformations wrought by capitalist development unburdened by zoning. For Doug Milburn, Houston was “the last American city,” characterized by its ever-unfinished status as process rather than product. For Lars Lerup, its diffuse ecology of mega-shapes and micro-stimuli heralded the demise of the traditional city: a fluid condition of natural and artificial strata, a metastasizing field of events and affects punctuated by moments of stim and dross. At its peak, metropolitan Houston served as a radical testing ground for new ways of understanding the relentless permutations of 20th-century urbanism at large. Far from finding new extensions of these threads of writing the metropolis, probing their limits, or harnessing their potential for new speculations, instead, I encountered a city that seemed to have little nostalgia not just for its architecture, but also for its own prior theorizations. While cities like New York and Los Angeles capitalize on the major authors of their urban histories, Houston, by comparison, has largely fallen out of the center of contemporary discussions of urbanism and its possible futures. The most significant attempts to characterize Houston ultimately left a shrinking footprint on the contemporary urban scene, perhaps condemned by their avoidance of fixed definitions in relation to a metropolis endlessly in becoming. 3 Perhaps the major characteristic of Houston in the age of its most provocative theorizations was its lateness. An economy centered on petro-capital meant that its cycles of boom and bust happened a full decade out of step with urban development elsewhere in the U.S., with its peak following the spike in crude oil prices in the 1970s at the same time that the rest of the nation suffered from a deep recession. The city was similarly subject to the end of the oil boom in dramatic fashion, as plans to build the world’s tallest tower in Houston ran aground as prices crashed after 1983. The city’s authors reinforced the sense of Houston as late: for Milburn, the “last” truly American city in its combination of frenetic pace and untimely development; for Lerup, a model for what comes “after” the conventional city. Inevitably, Houston became a capital of late modernism and its manifestations. These included lapidary icons of petro-development, like the faceted, symmetrical towers of Pennzoil Place (Johnson/Burgee, 1976), along with local masterpieces like Four Allen Center (Lloyd, Morgan & Jones, 1984), which MoMA curator Arthur Drexler praised as “absolutely staggering” in its mirrored-glass effects. Houston’s later corporate development encapsulated its seamless, stylistic transition to postmodernism in buildings often designed by the same architects, like Johnson/Burgee’s RepublicBank Center of 1984, just across the street from Pennzoil Place. Houston’s theorizations provided valuable frameworks for understanding these economic and aesthetic cycles together, from the city’s boom to the period that Joel Warren Barna called the “see-through years” in homage to the hollow, abandoned development projects that littered the city’s landscape in the 1980s, begun a decade too late. 4 Houston has emerged as ground zero for what architecture and the city have become—for good or evil—in the midst of our national politics. The genuine multiculturalism of the country’s fourth-largest city—its greatest resource—offers conflicting signals with regard to architecture’s complicity with, or resistance to, the rise of xenophobia, racism, and nationalism in the U.S. This year provided welcome news of an international competition to design the country’s first official Ismaili Center, sponsored by the Aga Khan, with the hope of producing a distinguished building worthy of serving the nation’s largest community of Ismaili Muslims. Emancipation Park, established in 1872 as the first municipal park for African Americans in a segregated Houston—but long fallen into disrepair since the 1970s amid the decline of the historically underserved Third Ward—reopened last year to much fanfare following an extensive program of renovation and new construction by a team of designers led by Phil Freelon. Such initiatives are tempered by the news that Southwest Key Programs, a Texas nonprofit, plans to repurpose a warehouse near Houston’s downtown—which previously housed families displaced by Harvey—as a detention center for “tender age” immigrant children under the age of 12 who were forcibly separated from their parents by ICE. Meanwhile, the first federal contract for an immigrant detention center under the Trump administration was awarded in April 2017 to GEO Group, a private prison company, to build a $110 million, 1,000-bed facility in Conroe, a city just north of Houston. Such cruelties underscore the presence of the vast prison-industrial complex that underlies much of the financial landscape of the city’s politics, in parallel with the multinational conglomerates centered here—such as Halliburton—that have tied the city’s petrochemical industries to the construction of military detention facilities abroad. 5 What lessons can we learn from Houston today, from its dissonant combination of the hopeful and the horrifying amidst the city’s current urban transformations? How can new thinking emerge from the multiculturalism of an expanding city? Perhaps Houston’s lateness can be redeployed in its favor: While it may be behind the beat in offering responses to climate change, urban development, and cultural conflict, Houston’s apparent condition of being out-of-time can be reclaimed as a mode of resistance, a slowness in relation to contemporary politics. In this context, what can we do differently, and what must we think anew? For one, future criticism and speculation on the city will have to become more intersectional, no longer centered around a dominant—white, male—set of voices. (Look again at the list of authors on the previous page.) New ideas will have to come from beyond the domain of the academy, from the full spectrum of actors, interests, and constituencies that together represent Houston’s enviable diversity. The way forward might be indicated by the remarkable success of Project Row Houses, established in 1994 by artist Rick Lowe as a residency program for artists, architects, and writers—primarily women and people of color—to create and exhibit work in a series of restored shotgun houses in the Third Ward. The project’s model, based on a commitment to public art and an alternative model of community development—one that includes dedicated residences for young, single mothers—offers a true praxis for how cultural identity and community work can intersect in rethinking and remaking the city. Another lesson in joint urban practice can be found in the recently announced initiative by the University of Houston and the International Center for the Arts of the Americas at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston to create a partnership focused on Latino and Latin American art and culture. In seeking to connect students to the culture and heritage of Latino communities that make up some 43 percent of the urban population, this initiative suggests how architecture and design can respond more fully to a deeply multicultural city. Such examples offer the hope of a new Houston urbanism to come, one that expands the range of those who can participate in interpreting its transformations and reclaiming its prior theorizations toward new, untimely, and more humane futures.
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AT&T Building landmarking vote advances amid outpouring of support

The winding saga of Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s hulking 550 Madison took another turn yesterday, as New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) considered landmarking the postmodern office tower’s granite exterior. Preservationists, architects, and colleagues of Johnson’s took the stand to deliver public testimony in favor of the potential landmarking, and even ownership spoke on how they would sensitively redevelop the building with input from the commission. The furor over the former AT&T headquarters began with the initial reveal of Snøhetta’s plan to glass over and encase the base of the tower in October 2017, demolishing the great archways and loggias that, at the time of the building’s opening in 1984, formed a looping privately-owned public space (POPS). The original plan would have stripped the base’s defining 110-foot-tall granite archway and redefined the balance between what had been designed as a tripartite structure (the looming base, the center wall of windows, and the ornamental “Chippendale” topper). The LPC moved quickly to calendar the building in November of last year but also noted that, due to development partners Chelsfield America and Olayan America’s decision to demolish the lobby (against the wishes of Community Board 5), only the exterior would be under consideration. At the most recent meeting of the Landmarks Committee, Seth Pinsky, executive vice president of RXR Realty­­­­—now a minority partner on 550 Madison’s redevelopment—spoke on behalf of the building’s owners and discussed the new scheme they would be presenting. Snøhetta’s glass curtain wall is out, and ownership now officially supports landmarking the tower’s exterior. As a result, they would also like to remove the building’s rear annex and renovate the arcade covered by Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman during their 1993 renovation for Sony and bring the rear yard condition closer to Johnson and Burgee’s original vision. This would create a much larger enclosed garden and seating area. As for the tower’s interiors, originally designed for single-tenant occupancy and for a maximum of 800 employees, Pinsky stated that the current plan was to build out Class A office space for up to 3,000 potential workers. The vast majority of testimony read at the hearing was in favor of landmarking the former AT&T Building. Some in attendance spoke on the building’s noble intentions but purported failure to connect with the street level; in Richard Rogers’ statement, delivered via surrogate, it was noted that while the tower itself has always been impressive, the successive series of interventions at the ground level have only strayed further from Johnson and Burgee’s original intention. The committee received an additional 12 letters of support for landmark status, including from the National Register of Historic Places. Ultimately, the fate of 550 Madison will likely be determined at an unspecified later date wherein commissioners will take Tuesday's testimony into account. The building's owners will continue to tweak their proposed scheme in the meantime. AN will continue to provide updates as they become available.
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What is going on with the AT&T Building lobby?

Last month The Architect's Newspaper (AN) reported that the AT&T Building's lobby was demolished. Now, though, preservationists believe the lobby at 550 Madison Avenue is more intact than previously thought. Permits for the lobby demolition were issued in December, and in January, developer Chelsfield and investment group Olayan America, the team behind the postmodern tower's redesign, confirmed the interior had been sledgehammered. Acting on that information, Manhattan Community Board 5's (CB5) Landmarks Committee voted on a draft resolution last month that condemned the development team's decision to demolish the lobby in the middle of talks with the board and preservation groups like the Municipal Art Society (MAS) and Docomomo US, among others. Although the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) excluded the lobby of the Philip Johnson and John Burgee–designed tower from landmark consideration last November, 20th century preservation experts consider the interior and exterior of the building to be one cohesive space, even after early 1990s renovations enclosed the lobby and surrounding arcades. Earlier this month, however, preservation activist Thomas Collins said he walked by the building and saw most of the lobby was still intact. Most of the granite walls, the oculus, and the ceiling appear to be there. At the top of the arch, the north wall was still visible, but when Collins walked by the building today, the lobby was scaffolded up to the oculus level. It appears the main plan is to rotate the elevators a quarter-turn, opening up a sightline from Madison Avenue into a garden that will replace an annex and the enclosed arcade between 55th and 56th streets. In Collins's estimation, the programmatic requirements of the proposed work do not necessitate cosmetic changes outlined in the demolition permits. He believes the elevators could be rotated while "[retaining] 80 to 90 percent of the historic fabric.” When prompted for an accurate and detailed description of the work performed, a spokesperson for the developer issued the following statement, which was attributed to Chelsfield Managing Director David Laurie:

"We are six weeks into an approximately eight-week demolition process, consistent with LPC-approved permits issued in December. The entire space is beyond restoration with the majority of the lobby’s features now removed. This renovation work is in accordance with our plans to revitalize 550 Madison, making it viable for multi-tenant occupancy."

Through the spokesperson, Laurie declined to elaborate on repeated requests to give details on whether the floors, fixtures, and interior partitions had been demolished per the permits for the $100,000 project that were issued in December. Architect Scott Spector, principal of Spector Group Architects, is signing permits for this phase of the lobby project. Given the developer's reluctance to share details on the state of the lobby, the community board is trying to determine the exact scope and scale of the demolition-in-progress. "Until we know it is not correct, we cannot take any information as fact until [the board] can verify it," CB5 Landmarks Committee Chair Layla Law-Gisiko said. "If we were to find out that it was a misrepresentation, it would be very disappointing and worrying. We're always trying to work in good faith with all the stakeholders." She added that the board knows the building must be altered to prepare it for multi-tenant occupancy, but that the alterations must be contextual. "Putting Philip Johnson's architecture in the dumpster? No," she said. At the full CB5 board meeting last week, members approved a resolution in support of landmarking, and encouraged the LPC to review the lobby as-is for potential interior landmark designation. The resolution also recommended reverting the public spaces Sony (the primary tenant after AT&T) had converted to retail in 1993 back to public use. Although community board decisions are non-binding, the LPC takes them into account in its deliberations. In addition to CB5's voice, five local politicians signed a letter to Laurie urging the development team to "engage in a good-faith dialogue" with preservationists and others to make sure the renovations honor Johnson and Burgee's original design intent. The undersigned—two state senators, two assembly members, and new City Council District 4 rep Keith Powers—said they understood the lobby wasn't up for landmark consideration, but encouraged Chelsfield and Olayan America to treat the space sensitively nonetheless. This latest controversy is an aftershock from the October reveal of Snøhetta's renovations, which sought to replace 550 Madison's imposing pink granite facade with an undulating glass curtain wall that would expose the 37-story tower's steel framework. The $300 million redo was met with an avalanche of criticism, with some architects and pomo enthusiasts taking to the streets to protest the planned changes. Collins took the lead on the landmarks nomination, preparing the LPC paperwork for the building's nomination. These are the first major changes to 550 Madison, as the building is now officially known, since Olayan America acquired the property for $1.4 billion in May 2016. Since last February, records show the owners have paid two lobbying firms over a quarter-million dollars to attempt to influence the Manhattan Borough President, the Department of City Planning, and various council members—not an unusual move for a development of this caliber. This year, the group has retained the lobbyists at Kasirer to speak with the Manhattan Borough President, the Department of Buildings, community boards, and the LPC, among other entities. Records show the group, working as OAC 550 Owner LLC, has spent no money so far in 2o18 on these efforts, however. An AN reporter went to eyeball the lobby on February 2, looking for possible changes. Whereas it was previously possible to see into the space through cracks in the butcher paper, workers have taped the cover-ups to the glass so thoroughly that none of the lobby is visible from the street. For his part, Collins believes the permits are for preemptive demolition. "They don't have a plan for the interior; they just want to mess up enough of the interior so the LPC won't touch it," he said. This story has been updated to clarify the scope and impact of the interior renovation.
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It’s official: The AT&T Building lobby is gone

Last night Manhattan Community Board 5's (CB5) Landmarks Committee unanimously approved a resolution in support of protecting the AT&T Building, Philip Johnson and John Burgee's 1984 postmodern tower on Madison Avenue. Although the objective was primarily to discuss building's historic merit and landmark eligibility, the committee's wide-ranging conversation returned repeatedly to the owner's decision to sledgehammer the building's lobby in the midst of talks with preservation groups, CB5, and other stakeholders. Much of the lobby talk focused on what constitutes interior or exterior space in a young-ish building whose public areas were cocooned by a major renovation less than a decade after it opened. In 1993, Sony Corporation, the building's new tenant, tapped Gwathmey Siegel (now Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman) to glass in a rear arcade as well as the loggias on either side of the Madison Avenue entrance, a move that created retail from previously open, public space. Although the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has already said it will not landmark the formerly exterior, now interior spaces, this didn't stop the Landmarks Committee from expressing its disappointment towards the agency's decision to okay demolition permits. The committee, seated before reporters and a half-dozen members of the public, heard remarks from the project team first. David Laurie, managing director for developer Chelsfield America, read a statement to the board on behalf of his company and Olayan America, the owner of the building and Chelsfield's partner in the redevelopment. "We have taken our role as stewards very seriously," he said. Their goal was to adapt the building, erected as the headquarters for AT&T only, into multi-occupant Class A office space for future tenants of 550 Madison, as the building is now officially known. On the ground floors, he said, renovations will "finally deliver on the building's promise for public space." Laurie explained his team has commissioned a public garden that will be "marginally larger" than the sculpture garden at MoMA, which is 21,400 square feet. Floorplans on 550 Madison's site give an idea of how the new spaces will flow together. The lobby, at center, remains in a similar configuration, as does the existing retail on either side. Behind that, plans show that the garden will replace an adjoining annex and the enclosed arcade between 55th and 56th streets. Despite these renovations, the lobby is—or rather, was—one of the best-preserved public postmodern interiors in New York. CB5 Landmarks Committee Chair Layla Law-Gisiko confirmed that, per permits the LPC signed off on in December, the lobby has been demolished. The Architect's Newspaper (AN) reached out to Chelsfield America for comment on its decision to alter the lobby but had not heard back at press time. On February 1, a representative for the developer confirmed the work described in the permit—the removal of interior partitions, ceilings, elevators, and finishes—has been completed. The representative could say whether the patterned marble floor remained intact. The ground floor plans are part of Snøhetta-led renovation of the building that was unveiled in October 2017 and immediately condemned by leading architects as context-clueless and disfiguring. Among other changes, the Oslo- and New York-based firm proposed a striking exterior alteration of the structure's monumental Madison Avenue facade that would have swapped the rosy Stony Creek granite, a contextual reference to the city's classic Beaux-Arts skyscrapers, for an undulating glass curtain wall. The outcry over the design prompted preservationist Thomas Collins to initiate the building's landmarking, which usually (though not always) stops the clock on major renovations. The LPC subsequently added the structure to its calendar for landmark consideration last November. Over objections from Collins and others, however, the LPC is only considering 550 Madison's facade and public spaces, not the lobby, for landmarking. Four members of the public spoke in support of landmarking. These included Collins, a representative of civic group the Municipal Art Society, and Liz Waytkus, the executive director of modern architecture preservation group Docomomo US. "The historic nature of AT&T is one whole design," Waytkus said. She decried what she characterized as "backroom lobbying" that led to the LPC's approval of lobby demolition permits. Others praised the building's completeness and its singular place in 20th-century architecture. "Beyond its 'period room' appeal, the AT&T lobby is a uniquely attractive space with exceptional materials and attention to detail," Collins said. "It has aged well and offers valuable lessons to a younger generation of designers bored with the antiseptic minimalism currently in vogue." Landmarks Committee Vice Chair Renee Cafaro largely agreed, calling the recommendation to landmark the (formerly) granite-walled, black-and-white marble-floored lobby "imperative." "The intent of the interior, historically, was to be the exterior—to be exposed to the elements was holistically part of the building. Even if some of the grandeur is gone, presumably the original height of the space is still there," she said. "All they really did here was throw some glass in the main archways." After some back-and-forth on the interior-exterior question, the committee drafted and approved a resolution that recommended the designation of the exterior and expressed disappointment at the LPC's approval of the lobby demo permits, saying the agency's move sets an "unfortunate precedent." The full board will vote on the Landmarks Committee's resolution at its meeting this Thursday. Although community board resolutions do not carry the weight of law, the LPC takes their decisions into account during its own deliberations. This post has been updated with new information about the state of the lobby. 
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Exclusive: Demolition begins on AT&T Building lobby

Though it's up for landmarking, parts of the AT&T Building are being torn down this minute. The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has approved demolition of the lobby at Philip Johnson and John Burgee's postmodern tower at 550 Madison Avenue. Though the 1984 tower is up for landmark consideration, the designation would only protect the facade, not the interior. Department of Buildings (DOB) records show demo plans received LPC staff approval on December 15 and permits were issued that same day. The move to sledgehammer the soaring granite-clad entrance comes even as project partners publicly support landmarking. David Laurie, Managing Director at Chelsfield America, issued a statement in support of 550 Madison's landmarking shortly after the LPC calendared the property. At that hearing, LPC commissioners debated whether to calendar the interior, too, but ultimately decided against it, as the commissioners claimed that renovations throughout the years—most notably Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman's 1993 revamp—had diminished the lobby and the atrium's integrity. A letter from the LPC to preservation advocate Thomas Collins explains the department's reasoning on the lobby. "In our evaluation the lobby does not hold the same level of broad significance," said LPC Director of Research Kate Lemos McHale. "[With] the removal of 'Golden Boy' as a focal point, alterations within the lobby itself, and its diminished relationship to the overall design of the base, we have determined that it does not rise to the level of an interior landmark." McHale's letter also stated that compared to the building's genre-defining top and base, the interiors received less attention from critics and the media, and the attention they did receive was often tepid at best. In reply, Collins, who filed the initial paperwork to landmark the AT&T Building, noted that the statue, Evelyn Beatrice Longman's Spirit of Communication, used to top AT&T's old headquarters before it was moved to the 550 Madison lobby. Even the best interiors, he explained, generally score less ink than easier-to-see exteriors. Collins also pointed out that other, older designated interiors were much altered from their original state—the Empire State Building's lobby, for example, was landmarked with a drop ceiling. On a walk by the building about a week ago, Collins saw workers had papered over the lobby and erected scaffolding inside. "It's not clear why they're rushing forward at this stage. I believe they are primarily gutting the lobby for aesthetic and marketing purposes," he said. The move to landmark the 37-story Midtown Manhattan tower (now known as the Sony Building) responds to a Snøhetta-designed plan to replace parts of the now-vacant building's monumental granite facade with a curving glass curtain wall—the Madison Avenue–facing facade was deemed "uninviting" in a press release. Among other changes, the New York– and Oslo-based firm's plan would reveal the tower's steel structure, and double the size of the public space around the building. Olayan America, the investment division of multinational The Olayan Group, and developer Chelsfield are behind the $300 million redesign. A representative for the development team promised a statement on the lobby work close to deadline (see update, below). Here's what the 550 Madison team had to say about the lobby demolition:

"All work being performed is in accordance with appropriate permits and approvals, and is being reviewed by the NYC Landmark Preservation Commission, which is not considering the interiors as part of the designation process. We support the designation of the building and are currently preparing a carefully revised design that respects 550 Madison’s importance, and we look forward to continued discussions with interested parties, including the LPC, to make that happen. We are committed to creating a rejuvenated 550 Madison that retains its important presence, works for modern office tenants, and dramatically improves public spaces and amenities available to the larger East Midtown community."

Unsurprisingly, the surprise demolition didn't please preservationists. "The LPC made this decision behind closed doors—they knew they were going to rip out the interior," said Liz Waytkus, executive director of Docomomo US. "I feel like it's a bait-and-switch." This would not be the first substantial change to the structure. In 1993, electronics giant Sony commissioned Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman to convert the loggias on either side of the main entrance into retail, and enclose the open arcade at the building's rear. Johnson served as a consultant on the project. The 550 Madison team promised extensive community outreach on the project, but aside from the Landmarks hearing, no public community meetings have been scheduled so far. When prompted, a spokesperson for the developers did not volunteer specifics on the forthcoming community outreach efforts.
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Mezzanines coming to Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s atrium in Houston tower

Late last year, architects took to the streets to protest changes to the AT&T Building, Philip Johnson and John Burgee's postmodern masterpiece. The renovation proposed by Snøhetta would glass in the building's monumental granite facade, a move that riled preservationists and fans of the building. Now, similar changes are afoot at another Johnson and Burgee tower, this time in Houston. The owners of the Bank of America Center, a 56-story postmodern tower with a soaring atrium, want to glass in the lower level to create mezzanines which, while more low-slung, are infinitely more leasable. M-M Properties has hired New York's Sydness Architects to carry out the $15 million renovation, which includes the partial excavation of the Western Union building, a structure that was ensconced by the Johnson-Burgee tower. Phase one calls for replacing the building's first-floor granite facade with glass, to showcase a restaurant and offices, and phase two will add two stories for business tenants above that. The resulting mezzanines would add approximately 30,000 square feet of new floor space, and ground is expected to break on the first phase in February or March. "It will be a lot more friendly as a building on the streetscape than it has been," Sydness told the Houston Chronicle. Interestingly, Sydness had also worked with the architects on the original tower, then known as the RepublicBank Center. The structure was built in 1983, and since then, it's had four anchor tenants: The RepublicBank Center was the first, followed by NCNB Center, then NationsBank Center, and finally current tenant Bank of America. The firm, however, plans to move out of its digs in 2019. The building's design, said local real estate blog Swamplot, is a nod to the 16th-century Dutch guildhall, and it sits across from Pennzoil Place, another Johnson building.
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Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building clears first hurdle in landmarking process

Following a recommendation from research staff, New York City’s Landmarks and Preservation Commission (LPC) has unanimously voted to put Philip Johnson’s contentious AT&T Building on the path towards becoming a protected landmark. The calendaring approved today, the first formal step in the designation process, is a promising sign, although 550 Madison Avenue must now face a public hearing sometime in the next few months and further deliberations from the commission before a full vote. The landmarking initiative was given a jumpstart this month after Snøhetta unveiled their plans to strip the 110-foot tall granite archway at the base of the tower and re-clad it with an undulating glass façade. The reaction was swift, with architects and critics from around the world weighing in both for and against the redevelopment, and eventually a protest broke out in front of the building on November 3rd. Commissioners at the Monday meeting took their time after the presentation to deliberate on the unique factors that they would need to take into consideration before making a decision. If landmarked, Johnson’s tower, completed in 1984, would beat out the former Citicorp Building at 601 Lexington Avenue to become the youngest landmarked building in the city. Citing the AT&T Building’s size, prominent Midtown location, impact on the history of postmodernism, and Johnson’s legacy as the first winner of the Pritzker Prize, commissioners spoke of the building’s importance to the history of New York City. Mentioning the heavy media attention that the building has received lately, in addition to the looming renovation, the commissioners acknowledged that with the history of unauthorized changes and the proposed renovation, the tower is “in play” and that this was an opportunity they likely wouldn’t have another chance at. An interior landmarking of the building’s lobby was also discussed but was ultimately dismissed, as there had been too much deviation from Johnson’s original design. The tower’s original base had allocated open, publicly accessible arcades and a lobby designed specifically to house the “Golden Boy” statue for AT&T, all of which was scrapped when Sony began making changes in 1992. David Laurie, Managing Director at Chelsfield America, a development partner for the 550 Madison Avenue renovation, reached out to AN with the following statement. "We support the calendaring decision by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to protect the special architectural aspects of 550 Madison Avenue, which we are as committed to as ever following our conversations with community stakeholders. "We are committed to creating a rejuvenated 550 Madison that retains its important presence, works for future tenants, and realizes long-promised public amenities to the larger Midtown community. And we look forward to further collaborating with the LPC to make that happen." With the AT&T Building now potentially on its way towards reaching protected status, it remains to be seen how much of developer Olayan America and Snøhetta’s current scheme will actually be implemented. AN will be following this story as it develops.
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What’s happening to the monumental murals at the AT&T building?

An already controversial plan by Saudi-backed developers Olayan America to renovate 550 Madison Avenue into a modern office building has hit another snag. Following on the heels of Snøhetta’s proposal to update the base of Philip Johnson’s postmodern skyscraper with a rolling glass facade, new questions have arisen over a pair of murals in the second floor lobby. Famed abstract artist Dorothea Rockburne, who came to prominence in the 1970s with her paintings inspired by minimalism and mathematical principles, is questioning what will happen to her site-specific installations commissioned in 1993 by former Sony executives. A pair of 30 by 30-foot murals slotted into viewing alcoves, “Northern Sky” and “Southern Sky” are contextual pieces designed specifically for what was once the Sony Building. The swooping spheres of red and yellow, overlaid with a pattern of shifting squiggles, are representative of the electromagnetic field in that part of the sky while also drawing on aspects of chaos theory. The Chetrit Group, 550 Madison’s former owners before selling the property in 2016, had been engaged with a game of cat-and-mouse with Rockburne for years over the fate of the murals. Only after Rockburne revealed their correspondences publicly did the Chetrit Group eventually promise to keep the murals in place and pay for their upkeep. With the building changing hands, the agreement evaporated. Prompted by the Snøhetta’s recent renderings, the issue has once again reared its head, but Rockburne seemed hopeful when asked about where the murals would ultimately end up. Rockburne said, “Michael Schulhof [former CEO of Sony America and the original commissioner of the work] has stayed in contact with the new owners of the building. They’re aware of the importance, and have planned to take care of them.” Rockburne is less certain about what the building’s new facade means for the interplay between the building itself and her work, and had strong feelings about the latest proposal. “I knew Phillip Johnson. I’ve had dinner with Phillip Johnson. This is like putting a glass curtain over a cathedral.”
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‘Hands off my Johnson’: Protestors rally against AT&T Building redesign

Today New York’s architecture community came out in force to protest planned renovations to the base of the AT&T Building, Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s iconic postmodern tower. "We're on for a photo op, where I cradle a model like Philip Johnson did on the cover of Time Magazine," said Robert A.M. Stern, cradling a model of the AT&T Building that RAMSA crafted for the occasion. Stern was accompanied by a coterie of designers from his firm ("my young people!"), all carrying blow-ups of the cover or "Save the Stone" posters. Architects, curators, and members of nearly all the city's major historic preservation groups were in the streets snapping pictures of each others' signs and discussing the cheeky granite tower beneath scaffolding, a sign of renovations that have stirred the ire of preservationists and postmodernists alike. The protestors, about 20 strong, were responding to a Snøhetta design released this week that would modify the ground floor public spaces and glass over the building's arched stone entry. Renovations would add a larger garden connecting the building, now known as 550 Madison Avenue, to nearby 55th Street, while a multistory glass wall would make retail spaces visible from the street. After hearing the news, filmmaker and modern architecture lover Nathan Eddy organized a protest on Facebook and put out calls to action. Already, his change.org petition to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to save the building has garnered almost 800 signatures. (Although Landmarks considers public testimony submitted through its channels, this petition is not the first official step in the landmarking process.) A few days ago, however, preservation activist Thomas Collins took that first step by submitting a formal Request for Evaluation to the LPC to designate the AT&T Building an individual and interior landmark. Despite the provocation, Eddy said the group "is not shaming Snøhetta—but we want the building to remain as is." Nearby, Docomomo US, the modern architecture preservation organization, was handing out #SaveATT pamphlets that encouraged people to write to Landmarks to show support for preserving the building, inside and out. "Radical for its return to ornamentation and playfulness of design, the AT&T building is without question a New York City landmark with broad significance to the story of American architecture," Docomomo US said in a statement. "Long misunderstood, much like its Postmodern counterpart the Portland Building, the AT&T building is a door to the future of design." Johnson experts weighed in on the controversy, too. "The building is an extraordinarily important building for New York and for the history of postmodernism," said Hilary Lewis, the Glass House chief curator and creative director. "I would encourage the owners to take a close look at what they have and [find] a way to bring it back to its former glory. Snøhetta is a significant firm that could do something interesting, but in a way that treats the integrity of the facade with greater delicacy." Since it was commissioned by AT&T in the early 1980s, the building has churned through owners. The latest, Saudi Arabian investment group Olayan America, bought the 37-story property for $1.4 billion in June 2016 with plans to convert it into offices. (RAMSA was brought on board by previous owners to turn the vacant building into luxury apartments.) This is not the first time the building has undergone substantial renovations, either. In 1993, then-owner Sony commissioned Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman to enclose the 60-foot-high north and south arcades in glass to create two retail electronics stores for Sony products, a significant rework and reduction of the building’s privately owned but publicly accessible spaces. Today, scaffolding surrounds the building, and workers were painting sheetrock in the lobby, which is closed to the public. The protest was tight-knit but attracted the attention of a few passerbys, including Noel Robichaux, a worker at the old Four Seasons restaurant who followed the restaurant when it left its Johnson-designed home last year. Robichaux hadn't known about the protest in advance, only noticed because he was passing by and said that he thinks it's "interesting that Phillip Johnson's work is under attack across the city," with two iconic buildings being assailed in such a short time. Although it wasn't present at today's event, the Municipal Art Society (MAS) is in talks with Snøhetta about the design. “We have significant concerns about the proposal,” said Tara Kelley, MAS's vice president of policy and programs. In addition to concerns about the integrity of the building, the group is also worried about the accessibility of the POPS. The redesign project team presented its plans to MAS recently, and the group's planning and preservation committee is meeting with stakeholders again soon for further discussion. One little-discussed feature of the now-sealed-off second floor space is two murals by abstract artist Dorothea Rockburne. MAS doesn’t have details on the fate of the Rockburn murals, but AN is in touch with the artist's studio and will be printing a follow-up story shortly. (Update: We got the latest from the artist herself.)
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[UPDATES] Protest planned as controversy erupts over AT&T Building

Saudi Arabian investment group Olayan America announced plans yesterday to renovate and overhaul the base of Philip Johnson’s iconic AT&T Building (now 550 Madison Avenue). The response to Snøhetta’s design proposal was immediately mixed, with many in the architectural community deriding the new design as anti-contextual and ham-handed. The AT&T's monumental Stony Creek granite archway is made from the same stone as Grand Central Terminal, the original Penn Station, and the base of the Statue of Liberty. This kind of stone facade is not common in New York City today, and critics are asking questions about whether the city needs another glass facade. “AT&T might be the last great stone building. Midtown doesn’t need any more glass,” said filmmaker Nathan Eddy, who is currently making a film about Johnson and is organizing a protest for Friday afternoon outside of the building. Below are some of the responses to the controversy from the architectural community both in New York and around the globe. Feel free to send yours to us at info@archpaper.com and we will publish the best.

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"I am concerned about the building's relation to the street and to us the pedestrians. In a review of Philip Johnsons' design, I asked, 'What does AT&T's particular cultural borrowing have to do with us?' And I criticized his use of scale—as a modernist who knows only something called 'human scale' and as a PoMo (not a postmodernist) convert, who applies this unthinkingly and repetitiously, causing an architectural dehumanizing. Rem Koolhaas responded, 'But it has Presence.' Presence, pshaw! "Now we have proposals for Neo-modernist scalelessness. Again, what does it have to do with me on the street? If there are intriguing and exciting activities going on it's nice to hear about it but I don't see it. They should look at the Monadnock building and its kin of that era in Chicago for lessons on how commercial architecture can use street extensions into buildings to draw people in and scales that are commercial rather than public, to celebrate and decorate their activities as they draw you inside. And they should examine the retail choreography that draws people into urban commercial malls." —Denise Scott Brown, architect and author of Learning from Las Vegas "Louis Kahn famously described the Seagram Building as 'a beautiful lady in hidden corsets,' referring to the fact that Mies’s elegant facade masked all of the tower’s structural bracing. I thought of that when I saw Snøhetta’s plan for 550 Madison Avenue, the former AT&T Building, which calls for much of the lower section of the original granite facade to be stripped off, revealing never-seen cross-bracing behind it. The problem is that I’m not sure Philip Johnson’s lady wanted her corsets revealed any more than Mies’s did. In fact, probably less so, since Miesian modernism made some gestures, however disingenuous, toward structural honesty; Johnsonian postmodernism was all about the facade. Strip away the granite and you have quite literally exposed what the architecture was designed to conceal. "All that glass at the bottom with Johnson’s original granite above makes the building look top-heavy; visually, stone doesn’t want to be supported by glass. These facade missteps are too bad, because there is much about this proposed renovation to like. I think what Snøhetta has proposed for the public space in the back is a huge improvement over the banal space that exists there now, and demolishing the so-called annex structure is all to the good. Fixing up the clunky storefronts on Madison is worthy, too. A certain amount of change is absolutely necessary if this building, which was designed forty years ago for an imperial corporation to occupy as a single tenant, is to work for multiple tenants in the twenty-first century. But I’m not convinced that change has to come in the form of such drastic alteration to one of the most recognizable skyscraper facades of our time." —Paul Goldberger, architecture critic and Joseph Urban Professor of Design at the New School "This is bizarre. It is questionable whether Johnson’s original base should be altered at all. Its fortress-like quality is part of the architecture of, whether you like the building or not, an important postmodernist building which in its own time was controversial. But this is a bit neither-nor. It is both too respectful and disrespectful at the same time. If you’re going to change the base into a glass box, do it with the appropriate 'fuck you' brutality. Don’t leave in an apologetic trace of the arch and half of the heavy masonry. Different scale altogether but a few years ago the former Abbey National HQ in Baker Street, London was renovated and for a while, it looked like this (see below.)" —Sean Griffiths, artist and co-founder of FAT, London "The AT&T skyscraper, Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s succès de scandale of 1978, has the rare distinction of continually adding new chapters to its notoriety, even while its banal architectural design continues to age poorly. Not only did the original design, with its one-liner quotes from architectural history, involve removing a major piece of civic art from the original ATT building, but it was granted additional square footage in exchange for public space along the Madison Avenue sidewalk and behind.  This was a promise that was as good as people’s short attention spans, and as honest as the fake masonry joints that dimension the hung masonry facade. In 2002 those sidewalk niches—never very successful in the first place—disappeared. As memories of legal agreements faded, when the building was turned over to SONY, the electronics company proceeded to fill in the 'public space' with shops for their products. As one corporation claiming historical permanence gave way to another continually trading dishonestly in the name of the public good, the building has gained a loyal following eager to preserve its vintage post-modern design. Now a project is under consideration that promises to return some of the stolen public space—in exchange for?—to use as part of a conversion to new uses designed by Snøhetta…  it is certainly worth considering how life could be returned to the west side of Madison Avenue continually in the shadow of this Chippendale highboy of false promises." —Barry Bergdoll, Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History, Columbia University "There is no doubt that the building is a landmark in many, many peoples’ minds, even if it has no legal status as such. But let’s face it, retail is the king of street-level real estate. Open plazas, monumental lobbies and other public spaces went out the window on the same wave postmodernism rode in on." —Terence Riley, architect and curator "I was at the University of Houston last week and had an idea....." —Rob Rogers, Rogers Partners  "Like it or not, Johnson's Chippendale building is a landmark, metaphorically if not yet officially. It signified postmodernism's entry into the corporate design mainstream, which has played the biggest role in shaping the American city of the last 50 years, as well as the end of cap-M Modernism's hegemonic,  global, post-war choke hold largely unchallenged up until then. Just as many Bostonians united by a sustained loathing of Kallman McKinnell & Knowles Brutalist City Hall nonetheless advocate fervently for its designated protection, so should New York's  professionals and policymakers respect this historic measure of design's evolving continuum. There's room to upgrade and adjust it as the side facade elevations intimate, but demolishing the grand Palladian entry to be replaced by a glass curtain wall (however state-of-the-art it may be) utterly wipes out the narrative architectural  'sign' that lies at the core of postmodernist intent." —Paul Gunther, executive director, Gracie Mansion Conservancy, New York “It doesn’t matter if at this particular moment in time this building, and its author, are out of fashion. It is a hugely important building, probably one of the two most significant designs by one of the 20th Century’s most complex and continuously relevant and active architectural figures. The current proposal willfully and unnecessarily undermines, or rather systematically destroys, every single one of the building’s architectural qualities as experienced from the street and its ground level public spaces. The extremity of the proposal’s grotesque annihilation of anything that was unique about Johnson’s design, and any semblance of artistic coherence, would be comical if it wasn't so vulgar and aggressive. This is bully architecture, an act of disproportionate aggression to an important figure in history. Its Trump-era architecture, and must be stopped.” —Adam Nathaniel Furman, architect and author of Revisiting Postmodernism, London "While Snøhetta’s redesign of 550 Madison Avenue—or AT&T Building, as it will always be known—certainly does enlarge the public space and open it above ground once to the street, visually, but the new more transparent facade does not relate to the tower above at all as well as the more solid brick original base did. And it obscures (or dematerializes) the iconic tall arched entranceway that complemented the memorable, if not always adored, 'Chippendale' top. Like the new name, 550 Madison, the new facade is not distinctive or memorable. It’s lacy-ness does not seem to support the tall tower above it as well as the original more solidly brick one, which its arched arcade did. And the new public areas on upper stories are simply not as inviting as the types of public spaces were that were built at the time of the tower, such as Edward Larrabee Barnes’ IBM Building down the street at Madison between 56th and 57th Streets. There, bamboo-filled public areas with easy to access seating, open to the street on a cantilevered corner, inviting passersby to come in and stay for awhile. They also flow into to the Trump Tower atrium, providing access to Fifth Avenue, and to the 550 Madison tower on the south. Really 'public' public space works best at street level." —Jayne Merkel, art historian and critic, New York The protest will take place Friday, November 3 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at 550 Madison Avenue in Manhattan. Already, activists have started using the #saveatt hashtag on Twitter and elsewhere. There is also a change.org petition circulating, which can be found here. Here is the Facebook event description from the organizers:
Philip Johnson's AT&T building is the defining icon of post-modern 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. This must not be allowed to happen. We are aggressively dedicated to the preservation of Johnson's delicious crowning achievement. Please join us in preserving one of the seminal landmarks of the 20th Century.
The Architect's Newspaper (AN) will update readers as more information becomes available.