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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Snøhetta has released the first renderings for a split, tapering tower set to rise between Lincoln Center and Central Park in New York City. Snøhetta hopes that this reimagined tower-on-a-base scheme for 50 West 66th will simultaneously engage pedestrians at street level, while also paying homage to the surrounding neighborhood through the use of a familiar material palette. At 775-feet tall, the 127-unit residential building will stick out from the traditionally lower-slung neighborhood surrounding it, but Snøhetta has carved away bulk from the tower’s upper floors to minimize 50 West 66th’s effect on the skyline. Referencing Manhattan’s long history of natural stone construction, the studio has described the tower as being sculpturally excavated, and the 16th-floor amenity terrace prominently cleaves the building into two volumes. Even at that height, residents will be able to see across Central Park to the east, as well as across Hudson River to the west. A two-story textured limestone, bronze and glass retail podium will also contain an entrance for an adjacent synagogue on 65th street and create an approachable neighborhood access point. More windows are introduced to the limestone facade as the bulk of the building rises above the podium’s setback, and the slender tower portion is clad in a bronze and glass curtain wall. Other than the planted, multi-story terrace that anchors 50 West 66th, the tower portion has had its corners sliced away to expose balconies at its opposing corners and create a series of cascading loggias. Triangular, bronze-panel-clad cutaways taper the tower’s corners and join at the tip to form an angular crown. The warm materials, cutaways and slim top all serve to soften the building’s presence in what has been a historically low-to-mid-rise area. The project’s reveal has come amidst a particularly busy month for Snøhetta. Besides being tapped for the Oakland A’s new stadium and an underwater restaurant, the Norwegian studio has also faced criticism for its proposed glassing over of Philip Johnson’s postmodern AT&T Building. Construction is expected to begin in the first half of 2018.
The Oakland Athletics have finally settled on a site for their new ballpark, and have hired Sasaki, Snøhetta, Studio T-Square, and HOK to not only design the stadium, but to also better integrate it into the surrounding urban fabric. Ending years of contentious debate over where to build, the A’s have chosen the lakeside Peralta Community College District in downtown Oakland, California. Sasaki, Snøhetta, and Oakland-based Studio T-Square will lead master planning, urban design efforts, and build a community engagement process. HOK and Snøhetta will collaborate on the design of the new ballpark and how it interacts with the master plan. No images have been released as of yet, but the team and design firms involved are hoping that the new stadium will catalyze investment along Lake Merritt without alienating the community. “Our goal is to create the best ballpark experience for our fans, players, and community. It is critical for our ballpark to truly integrate into the fabric of Oakland,” said Oakland A’s President Dave Kaval, in a press release. Craig Dykers, founding partner at Snøhetta, also stressed that the project wouldn’t be an insular experience. “With its new home closer to downtown Oakland, the project will re-invigorate the relationship between the A’s and the city as a new kind of ballpark that acts as a center for sport, wellness and culture,” he said. Even with the promised outreach, community groups have been opposed to the plan owing to fears of displacement, gentrification, and potential environmental damage to the sensitive estuaries nearby. Another potential wrench in the plan is the presence of hazardous materials in the soil that would need to be remediated. An unknown amount of gasoline and other toxic substances have seeped into the ground and water at the site over the years, and no one knows how much the clean up will cost. Still, the new stadium will be a step up for the Athletics, set to become the only major league sports team in Oakland after the Raiders leave in 2019. The A's current Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum is a 51-year-old concrete eyesore that the team currently shares with the Raiders, and that regularly floods with sewage when the plumbing backs up. The team claims that the new stadium will be privately funded and put up to $3.05 billion into the local economy, and that construction should finish in 2023.
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.”
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.
MVRDV's stacked desires, Zaha Hadid's latticework roofs, and other updates from the architects of Instagram
At The Architect’s Newspaper, we’re plain addicted to Instagram. Sure, we love seeing Brutalist concrete through “Inkwell” or “Ludwig” filters, but there’s also no better place to see where architects are getting their inspiration, how they’re documenting the built environment, and where they’ve traveled of late. Below, we bring you some of the best Instagrams of this past week! (Also, don’t forget to check out our Instagram account here.) Last Friday, Rotterdam-based firm MVRDV opened The Why Factory (W)ego: The Future City is Flexible, a bright new installation for Dutch Design Week 2017 in Eindhoven. According to MVRDV co-director Winy Maas, the project is "based on the hypothesis that the maximum density could be equal to the maximum of desires." https://www.instagram.com/p/BaguLgZBAbV/?taken-by=mvrdv AN contributor and designer Adam Nathaniel Furman shared an alarmingly value-engineered facade in the UK. Beneath the fake brick, a hollow duct–a compelling metaphor for our current newscape. In the comments, there is a bit of hope: Furman and friends list British architects who would never do such a thing, like Sergison Bates, FAT Architects, Outram, or Caruso St. John. https://www.instagram.com/p/Baqmp7ag80u/ Bloomberg is getting a new $1.3 billion, Foster+Partners-designed headquarters in London. The bronze fin-covered building boasts artwork and installations by Cristina Iglesias, Michael Craig-Martin, Olafur Eliasson, and Langlands & Bell. Eliasson's No future is possible without a past crowns a central room within the building, resembling the silvery surface of a pond inverted onto the ceiling. https://www.instagram.com/p/Ban9Gxvnt8u/?taken-by=studioolafureliasson Zaha Hadid Architects completed the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre (KAPSARC) in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. The 70,000-square-foot, five-building complex includes an auditorium, library, exhibit hall, and a prayer room sheathed in white latticework (pictured below). https://www.instagram.com/p/Barov2bFJr6/?taken-by=zahahadidarchitects
Snøhetta and Clark Nexsen have been selected to design a new main branch for the Charlotte, North Carolina public library system. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, the official name for the public library system serving Charlotte and adjacent municipalities, includes 20 locations across Mecklenburg County and serves about one million patrons. Snøhetta, which is based in Oslo and New York, is the design architect, while Charlotte-based Clark Nexsen is the architect of record. The team also includes brightspot strategy, a consulting firm that will the community engagement effort. The same team previously collaborated on the James B. Hunt Jr. Library at North Carolina State University in 2013, pictured below. This is one of four North American libraries Snøhetta is designing right now. The new structure is intended to be a "public commons" that will inform the library's future programming, partnerships, and overall vision. According to Snøhetta, the Main Library structure–originally constructed in 1903 and replaced by another structure in the 1950s–will be demolished and replaced once more by the new design. No renderings are available at this time. "Libraries are more popular today than they have ever been, serving a wider range of needs than access to books only,” said ays Craig Dykers, founding partner of Snøhetta, in a prepared statement. “The architecture of libraries is also changing and Charlotte’s new library will lead the way in showing how a city and its core of knowledge can be open, welcoming and intriguing for decades to come." The library has earmarked $65 million in public funding for the project through the 2019 Mecklenburg County Capital Improvement Program. Private fundraising through the community will occur on an ongoing basis, but as of now, there is no set timeline for demolition or construction.
On the southernmost tip of Norway, diners may soon be able to enjoy their meal under the waves. Snøhetta has revealed designs for a new underwater restaurant called Under. The renderings show a half-sunken concrete shell that rises from the ocean like a ruin. The building will also house a marine life research center, and was designed to co-exist with the marine habitat to eventually become an artificial mussel reef. According to the firm, the restaurant's concrete walls will be more than a yard thick to withstand the force of the ocean, while its smooth outer form is encased in a craggy surface that mussels can latch onto. The artificial mussel reef that forms over time will help to clean the waters and attract more sea life to the area. The underwater portion of the building, which comes to rest directly on the ocean floor 16 feet below sea level, opens at one end with a 36-foot-wide panoramic window that looks out into the ocean "like a sunken periscope." Even the lighting has been designed to co-exist with and encourage marine life, set to dim and also installed on the sea bed itself. The three-story building invites guests to descend from the coastline into the coatcheck area, then below to the champagne bar, with the dining room at the lowest level seating 80 to 100 guests. The menu, of course, features locally-sourced seafood. Beyond the restaurant's operating hours, research teams from Norway and elsewhere will be able to study wild fish behavior through the seasons and experiment with creating optimal conditions for sea life to flourish in proximity to the building, while the pathway to the restaurant will be planted with plaques that inform visitors about local marine biodiversity. While Snøhetta has made prior forays into waterfront and environmentally-conscious architecture, this is the firm's first underwater building.
Snøhetta has released new renderings for the firm’s ambitious reimagining of the Willamette Falls near Portland, Oregon. The project aims to restore public access to the waterfalls by stringing a long, sinuous path through the formerly industrial site. (The Architect's Newspaper first covered the development when it was unveiled in 2015.) The Willamette Falls is the second-largest waterfall by volume in the United States and has been cut off from nearby downtown Oregon City for over a century. The falls are currently flanked by a collection of decrepit industrial buildings and a hydroelectric dam; some of those industrial buildings will be removed and replaced with native riparian landscapes while others will be redeveloped to accommodate new uses. The new renderings for the project depict a simply-articulated path connecting the various elements along the long, narrow, and linear site leading up to the falls. The proposed pathway—which has been designed to accommodate cyclical and historic flood levels and is seismically resilient—starts at the northern end of the site, where several old industrial buildings will be cleared away and a flour mill from the 1890s will be restored. The path here will connect to an old fuel dock that is being repurposed as a public vantage point and dock. After wrapping around the mill, the path transforms into a wide boardwalk overlooking the river that spills out onto a large public plaza framed by historic and new structures. A portion of the plaza wraps over the boardwalk to create a vantage point over the river. At the eastern end of the plaza, the elevated path picks back up, crossing over a creek in order to reach the a complex made up of more restored mill structures. Here, the mill structures—including antique boilers and other original machinery—will be preserved and opened for public use. The path splinters at the mill complex in order to provide elevated vangates and access to public terraces and groves of coniferous trees. The path ends at a broad promenade at the falls, where visitors can peer out over the dynamic landscape. Here, visitors can observe 360-degree views of the waterfalls and experience the cliffsides from pathways engineered to be supported by existing structures. The Willamette Falls proposal is scheduled to be unveiled June 3 at a public ceremony, and construction is expected to begin June 2018.
A green building research center at Harvard has enlisted Snøhetta to transform its headquarters into a test site for technology that may make it easier to retrofit older homes. Using its modest headquarters as a guinea pig, the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities (CGBC) at the GSD will retrofit its on-campus home. Designed by Snøhetta, the HouseZero project revamps the CGBC's 1924 stick-built house to run without an HVAC system, without daytime electric lighting, and produce zero carbon emissions, among other efficiencies. The project is the brainchild of Ali Malkawi, professor of architectural technology at the GSD and the center's founding director. "Before now, this level of efficiency could only be achieved in new construction," said Malkawi, in a press release. "We want to demonstrate what's possible, show how this can be replicated almost anywhere, and solve one of the world's biggest energy problems—inefficient existing buildings." In the United States, 113.6 million homes use around ten percent of the nation's energy. Although there are plenty of new buildings that are net-zero, there aren't many practitioners working to bring older buildings—especially older houses—up to that standard. For the CGBC, which was founded in 2014 to promote high-performance building techniques through design, HouseZero is a major test project. Instead of considering the house as a sealed box, Snøhetta will create an envelope that passively heats and cools itself. The HVAC system will be replaced with thermal mass, while a ground source heat pump will provide extra energy to regulate temperatures in the warmest and coldest months. Clad in white cedar shingles, HouseZero sports ash and birch interior finishes, natural clay plaster, and reclaimed brick and granite—all high-performing, locally available materials. The building components are outfitted with sensors so the structure can adjust itself for thermal comfort throughout the day while collecting data for future retrofits. A lab inside will be connected to the energy exchange system so architects and researchers can swap and test new facades and materials to further optimize the structure's performance. The project's concept design was developed in collaboration with the Center and with Snøhetta, which will act as lead architect, interior, and landscape architect. (The U.S. branch of Norwegian construction company Skanska is working on the house, as well.) Though it could probably go LEED super-platinum, HouseZero's creators aren't setting out to build for any existing certifications. According the press release, the team "wants to demonstrate an entirely new paradigm for ultra-efficiency, one that is localized and focused on curbing energy demand, with energy production secondary to that." Construction is expected to take between seven and nine months.
When a car plowed through the ever-busy Times Square in Midtown Manhattan on Thursday, 22 people were injured and one was killed. However, things could have been much worse. The security bollards in the Snøhetta-design pedestrian plaza held strong and stopped the driver, Richard Rojas, from killing and injuring more people. His car came to a stop on two wheels, after being wedged upward by a 3-foot-tall bollard, manufactured by Calpipe Security Bollards and installed last fall as part of the plaza redesign. In response Craig Dykers, Founding Partner at Snøhetta, released the following statement:
Times Square is one of the densest and most visited places in New York and the world. One of the key challenges of transforming this congested vehicular district into a place for people was making Times Square more comfortable and natural to walk through, while securing it against unpredictable tragedies like the one that took place in the Square yesterday. We offer our sincerest condolences to the family of the victim and we wish a healthy recovery to the injured and those affected. In our work to make permanent the pedestrian plazas in Times Square, we managed a successful collaborative process with the city and specialized consultants to be sure pedestrians would be safe in the Crossroads of the World. Our method has been to protect the plaza areas while also using design elements that don’t overwhelm the public experience. We wanted to be sure safety measures did not define the public space while also creating highly effective protective features in the most populated areas. Bollards, in connection with other integrated security features, form the basis of the security design for the plaza. These elements allow for fluid and intuitive circulation between the plazas. This was a fundamental concept of the redesign as a whole, which focused on reducing visual and physical clutter and confusion in the Square, creating a simplified surface that allows people to move comfortably and naturally through the space. Without these considerations more people would have been affected by this tragedy so we are grateful to everyone on the team for designing these preventative measures. We will continue to analyze the character of this event alongside our partners connected to this work to further minimize the impact of any future situations without interfering with the open, vibrant and unique character of Times Square.