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.
Honored to have been @nyclandmarks today to testify in favor of landmark designation for AT&T. I recalled writing about the design in @nytimes when it was just an idea, calling it “the most provocative and daring skyscraper to be proposed for New York since the Chrysler Building” https://t.co/ijyoHCfttZ— Paul Goldberger (@paulgoldberger) June 19, 2018
Posts tagged with "Philip Johnson":
"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.
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.
"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."
* * *"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.
As heroes need rivals, winners require competitors. Champions stay on top only when challenged. The status quo in any area of human endeavor lasts only when staving off oncoming alternatives. While change comes eventually—whether gradual or abrupt, graceful or under siege—habit, doctrine, or tyranny often stall its advent, and when change does come, it is often less than complete. Historic practices and traditional principles underpin progress with lingering connectivity: What’s best from the past informs progress or even pulls it back from misguided tangents when the test of time delivers a failing grade, like elevated highways slashing the urban fabric only to be cursed later as killers of community.
The stakes of such successive challenges to established orthodoxy are especially high in architecture, the most public of artistic disciplines. Shifting design solutions shape the bedrock business of construction and the lives of end users regardless of the relative awareness of polemical origins. Along the way, land-use regulations and profit seek to play their according roles, making change all the tougher.
Such a contentious continuum sets the historic stage for Hugh Howard’s lively depiction of the professional and theoretical rivalry of the two most renowned American architects of the 20th century: Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson. Early on in this all-too-rare design-professional page-turner, Howard sums up his premise: “They shared a deep commitment to the cause of architecture, but the two could have hardly been more different, separated as they were by age, region, and sexual orientation…the yin and the yang. In love and in hate, the positive and negative charges that gave architecture its compass.”
The reader might emerge wondering if at times the book tries too hard to portray a tense, ideal dual-personification of a central axiom of the 20th century’s design evolution: The Romantic (Wright) versus the Modern (Johnson), informed as capital “M” Modernism often was at its applied outset by an “enduring fondness for the classical.”
Yet the effort proves pleasurably worthwhile as a way to chronologically measure two legendary careers, enhanced by their silver-tongued exchange of competing visions. A shared penchant for righteous control loosened as their long careers unfolded, if more in deeds than in words. Theirs proves an oddness of mutual gain.
Their rivalry’s defining crucible, as Howard reveals it with justified relish, is MoMA’s fabled 1932 Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, organized by the precocious (and independently wealthy, thereby prematurely well-connected) 26-year-old Johnson, along with certifiable scholar Henry-Russell Hitchcock.
In a none-too-soon nod to the European upheaval in design, museum founder Alfred Barr gave the go-ahead, asking only for some trace of American participation. Despite joint skepticism and caustic distrust, Johnson and Wright finally cooperated with a never-built plan called “House on the Mesa.” MoMA visitor traffic received a boost from the inclusion of the best-known stateside practitioner, and an inspired Wright emerged newly invigorated, with the modernist masterpiece of Fallingwater carrying straight through to the final assignment of the Museum of Non-Objective Art (the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum). The currency of polemical sparring started to pay rich creative dividends for all, no less than for Johnson himself who emerged as America’s official boy genius of design connoisseurship.
After his German flirtation with fascism and architectural studies at the GSA, Johnson took his place as Wright’s closely watched rival practitioner as well as critic, with his 1949 Glass House in New Canaan and the philosophical crossfire that it refreshed, according to Howard.
Howard quotes Johnson in response to Wright’s dismissal of the Connecticut retreat: “Was he born full-blown from the head of Zeus that he could be the only architect that ever loved or ever will?” Contrary to Wright’s insistence on originality, Johnson made no bones about his distilled use of precedent ranging from Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to Andrea Palladio, who likewise reacted to site in a “formal way that alludes to the classical past.”
What Wright denounced as a mere box or “monkey cage” instead took its enduring place. It represented not only the International Style taking further hold of America’s design imagination and marketplace, but also an architecture based upon ideas and historic interplay: the midwife of modernism. Howard summarizes, “Johnson wrote few melodies but he was a great orchestrator…with the application of a critical and evaluative intelligence rather than the inventions of an inductive creative imagination.”
This tension of romantic originality and New World self-assurance versus the cerebral, globally ecumenical distillation of built excellence both past and contemporary defined the core theoretical crosscurrent during “The American Century.” Howard’s pairing succeeds at personifying this central debate, concluding: “Rather against his will, Johnson evolved into one of Wright’s most important public admirers. As a man who worshiped zeitgeist, he found that his old nemesis’s ideas retained remarkable vibrancy…work that transcended style and even time.”
Like the interpersonal artistic skirmishes enlivened recently by Sebastian Smee in The Art of Rivalry, attention should be given to a book that offers such engaging access to architectural theory and its visible results as sources for future impulse.