No architectural monument in New York has stirred up such passionate ambivalence as Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building at 550 Madison Avenue.
Widely mocked and grudgingly admired, the emblematic tower of the postmodern age made its pop-culture debut as a scale model that its maker held aloft like a trophy on the cover of critic, was both entranced and suspicious.
Sony moved out in 2016, and since then the tower has remained vacant.
Now it’s the Norma Desmond of skyscrapers, built for another era but hoping for a glorious third act.
Their elegance was too self-conscious to offset the cold formality that pervades the building; the grandiose architecture rolls over the space and quashes it.” Gwathmey’s intervention didn’t help.
The insertion of (unsuccessful) stores left a pair of flanking breezeways on the side streets, so unspacious and uninviting that someone felt the need to hang banners reading “Public Space,” because otherwise how would you know?
“Not addressing the fundamental challenges would be a disservice to an important building,” he says.
“If we were doctors and we saw some symptoms, we wouldn’t just give the patient a happy pill.” At first blush, Snøhetta would seem to be the right firm for the job.
Less than a decade later, Sony took over the building and subjected it to a clumsy makeover.
Gwathmey Siegel & Associates enclosed most of the public spaces, shoehorning stores into the yawning arcade.