Posts tagged with "Philip Johnson":

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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.
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Snøhetta set to overhaul Philip Johnson’s iconic AT&T Building

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. 
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Philip Johnson’s Sculpture Gallery gets a renovation worthy of the original

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Philip Johnson’s property in New Canaan, Connecticut, is synonymous with his iconic Glass House, but the Sculpture Gallery of 1970 is worthy of pilgrimage itself. “This is still the single best room that I have ever designed,” Johnson said of the gallery in a 1991 interview for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
  • Facade Manufacturer PPG (glass); Oldcastle (skylight system); National Cathode (lighting)
  • Architects Philip Johnson Alan Ritchie Architects
  • Facade Installer Nicholson & Galloway
  • Facade Consultants n/a
  • Location New Canaan, CT
  • Date of Completion 2017
  • System aluminum extrusion system and glass skylighting
  • Products Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope® BMS-3000 skylight system
Incorporating the influence of Greek architecture, the Sculpture Gallery is an interplay of intersecting angles set within a sloped landscape, capped with a glass ceiling supported by tubular steel rafters that cast dramatic shadows on the work inside. As the years wore on, the original roof began to leak, damaging the lighting and heating systems and staining the building’s tubular steel skeleton. Restoration was needed, and as part of that effort, Ted Hathaway, a member of the Glass House Advisory Council and president of Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope (the most significant benefactor of the Glass House site since its opening in 2007), donated a new aluminum extrusion system and glass skylighting. The restoration tackled numerous issues, like bringing the skylight up to contemporary standards while respecting Johnson’s original intent. “The Sculpture Gallery is renowned for the shadow pattern that is produced on the interior of the building on sunny days,” Glass House Director Gregory Sages said. “The glass needed to be upgraded to a laminated product that meets current building code. Maintaining the height and width of the extrusions was essential to replicating the shadow pattern Johnson created.” The factory that created the original glass is no longer in operation, so Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope utilized glass provided by PPG to develop a modern replacement, landing on a 9/16-inch laminated safety glass with quarter-inch Solarcool Gray #2 outboard lite, a clear polyvinyl butyral (PVB) interlayer, and quarter-inch clear inboard lite. “We were able to find an exact match that is reflective from the outside and transparent from the inside,” Sages said. Though the original aluminum could support the new glass, Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope’s BMS-3000 skylight system with stepped-and-overlapped guttering was utilized to prevent further leakage. Matching the original lighting proved a challenge of its own. The team experimented with energy-efficient LED lighting, but was disappointed by the effects. They found the solution with the original supplier, National Cathode, which produced tubes matching the original output volume and color temperature—meaning the restored building will match the original whether the lights are on or off. The success of the project was underscored when original project architect Horst Hahn visited the site, giving it his stamp of approval. Now, just as Johnson put it in that 1991 interview, “the roof then becomes a substitute for the heavens.”
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Frank Lloyd Wright vs. Philip Johnson rivalry plays out in new page-turner

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.

Architecture’s Odd Couple: Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson Hugh Howard, Bloomsbury Press, $19.99

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Threatened Philip Johnson Booth House seeks buyer—now

Ever wanted to live in a home designed by a world-famous modern architect? Well, here's a chance: The owner of Philip Johnson's first built commission is looking for a buyer, and fast. Johnson's Booth House, built in 1946, predates the Glass House by three years and was the architect's first built work (not counting his Harvard GSD thesis project). Like the Glass House, which Johnson designed for himself in New Canaan, Connecticut, the Booth House in rural Bedford, New York sits on a grassy podium, sports floor-to-ceiling glazing, and is organized internally around a commodious brick fireplace. The owners—architect Sirkka Damora and her husband, architectural photographer Robert Damora (1912–2009)—moved in as renters in 1955 and never left. After buying the house in the 1960s, they added almost 900 square feet of below-grade space to the 1,450-square-foot home, expanding the layout for a growing family without substantially altering Johnson's design. The couple's son, Matt Damora, has distinctive memories of growing up in what would become a seminal work of modern architecture. "It's all I knew, but every friend that came by thought it was entirely weird," he said. In a town defined by Colonial Revival homes with decorative entrances and functionless shutters, "they weren't used to the idea of floor-to-ceiling glass, or open plan spaces—the lack of ornamentation, they didn't know what to do with it." Damora's architect parents clearly felt differently, even building an 800-square-foot studio on the two-acre property that dialogued with Johnson's design. Now 93, Sirkka is looking to sell the house, and soon. She wants "appreciative stewards" for her home of 62 years, according to a post Matt submitted to Docomomo, the modern architecture preservation association. There are a few complications, though: The title of the house is in litigation, which—depending on the outcome of the case—could jeopardize its very existence, Matt explained. Readers may recall that this is not the first time the house has been on the market: Back in 2010, the family tried to sell the home for $2 million, but the post-Recession market in Westchester County wasn't strong enough to close a deal. This time, the home is back on the market for $1 million. With the house's fate uncertain, Matt fears that a future developer could demolish the (small by today's standards) home and build a McMansion or two on the property, which is adjacent to a developable lot. Considering the urgency of the family's project, Matt has made his contact information available to the public in hopes of expediting a sale: He can be reached at r[dot]damora[at]verizon[dot]net or 718-230-8858.