"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.
Posts tagged with "at&t building":
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:
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.
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.
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.)
In the latest twist and turn in the saga of Philip Johnson’s notorious AT&T Building, the team from Norwegian design firm Snøhetta has released their plans to overhaul the base of the tower with a massive undulating glass façade that will override the monumental postmodern composition of the tower. The 1980s tower, located at 550 Madison Avenue, is the first major project to be announced as part of the New York City’s East Midtown rezoning plan. The work will focus on the public spaces at the street level, including a larger garden that will connect Madison Avenue and 55th Street as well as open up the brick façade and the retail and office spaces behind it. The Sony Corporation had owned the building since 2002 but left almost 2 years ago. It was bought in 2013 by the Chetrit Group and Clipper Realty, who had planned to turn it into luxury condos designed by Robert A.M. Stern. The plan was scrapped, however, when the firm started to second-guess the high-end residential market. Saudi Arabian investment group Olayan America bought the building for $1.4 billion and along with development partner Chelsfield America plans to turn it into offices. Snøhetta aims to “highlight the multi-story arched entry while revealing the craftsmanship of the building’s existing steel structure.” The first two levels will be publicly accessible. The garden will feature seasonal plantings that will be transformed over the course of the year and the owners hope that birds and butterflies will flourish in the new urban greenscape. Founded in 1947, Olayan America has its main offices in Athens, London, Riyadh and New York, where it is based and where it has had a continuous presence for more than 45 years. Read our followup here to see how architecture critics and others in the architecture community are weighing in on the proposed design.