Architecture firm Snøhetta unveiled this week a preservationist-friendly revision to a controversial design for an updated AT&T building at 550 Madison Avenue. The latest design is one of several revisions, each followed by controversy over being seen by preservationists as diverting too much from the building’s original design by Philip Johnson and John Burgee. In addition to comparisons to the original, new designs have had to consider the subsequent revamp that made it the Sony building in 1994, which replaced the building’s open Madison Avenue arcade with “Sony Experience” storefronts and covered a rear public arcade with a glass roof.
550 Madison Avenue
This morning the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to designate the AT&T building at 550 Madison Avenue as an individual landmark. Designed by Philip Johnson and completed in 1984, the world’s first postmodern skyscraper originally served as the AT&T headquarters. A decade later, Sony moved in and it became known as the Sony Tower. Recently, a growing roster of preservationists and architects have been urging the LPC to landmark the building after plans surfaced showing significant changes to its architecture.
During a nearly two-hour public hearing on Tuesday, passionate preservationists, architects, and community groups testified in front of the Landmarks Preservation Commission in support of designating the postmodern skyscraper at 550 Madison Avenue as an individual landmark. Best known as the AT&T Building, the 37-story tower was designed by Philip Johnson, along with his partner John Burgee, and completed in 1984.
As postmodernism’s first skyscraper, 550 Madison has stood out for its pink-gray granite facade, arched entryway and Chippendale-inspired crown. A wide range of people on Tuesday voiced support for giving 550 Madison landmark designation, including architectural critic Paul Goldberger. In his testimony, Goldberger cited his own 1978 New York Times review of the building, before it was built, when he called the AT&T Building “a major monument” of postmodernism and “the most provocative and daring skyscraper to be proposed for New York since the Chrysler Building.”
This morning the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to calendar the postmodern skyscraper at 550 Madison Avenue, designed by Philip Johnson and completed in 1984. The world’s first skyscraper built in a postmodern style was originally known as the AT&T Building, as the tower served as the company headquarters. Sony moved in in the 1990s, giving it the nickname of the Sony Tower.
Last year, the building sold to the Olayan Group and Chelsfield for a whopping $1.4 billion. Their resulting renovation plan, led by Snøhetta, has elicited protest from preservationists who do not want to see changes to the building’s impressive arched entryway. Now that the tower’s calendared, the developers’ $300 million renovation will eventually come up for a landmarks vote by the LPC.
Photo of the protest courtesy of Nathan Eddy
After Olayan America and Chelsfield revealed plans last week for a $300 million renovation of the building at 550 Madison Avenue, known as the AT&T Building, criticism quickly followed. Members of the architecture community, including New York architect Robert A.M. Stern, rallied together last Friday at the base of the Philip Johnson-designed skyscraper, to protest Snøhetta’s proposal to replace the building’s base with a scalloped glass front (h/t Dezeen). Protestors held signs that read “Hands off my Johnson,” “Save the Stone,” and “Save AT&T.” Plus, a petition is currently being circulated on Change.org in an attempt to preserve Johnson’s iconic AT&T Building by having the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission officially designate it as a city landmark.
Rendering of 550 Madison Avenue, via DBOX/ Snøhetta
Over the last few years, plans to refurbish the former headquarters of AT&T and Sony Building at 550 Madison Avenue have come and gone, including a proposal to convert the upper floors into luxury condos designed by Robert A.M. Stern. Now, with those plans long abandoned, Olayan America and Chelsfield revealed plans on Monday for a $300 million renovation of the tower, modernizing the lower levels of the building with high-quality amenities and a sprawling 21,000-square-foot public garden. With Snøhetta as lead architect, the renovation will be the first major project in East Midtown since its revitalization plan was approved earlier this year.
In a very unexpected twist, The Real Deal has learned that the Chetrit Group is selling the Sony Building, scrapping its flashy plans to convert the office building’s upper floors to luxury condos designed by none other than Robert A.M. Stern. Olayan America, a division of the Saudi conglomerate Olayan Group, is in contract to purchase 550 Madison Avenue, partnering with European and Asian asset manager Chelsfield. According to the Post, they’ll pay between $1.4 and $1.5 billion, a profit of at least $300 million for Chetrit. In a statement, Olayan said they’ll lease space to “high-quality commercial tenants.”
550 Madison rendering via Dbox
Curbed spotted the freshly launched teaser site for the Chetrit Group’s Sony Tower conversion, now going by the name 550 Madison, which revealed several new details about the project. The most notable is that Robert A.M. Stern will be designing the “opulent” condos, and we assume this includes the $150 million triplex penthouse. Interestingly, Stern was once a student of Philip Johnson, who is responsible for the ground-breaking Sony Building. In all, there will be 113 condo units on floors 21-43, up from the previously reported 96, as well as a 170-key luxury Parisian hotel and high-end ground-floor retail.
While it seems like every block in the city is host to a construction site throwing up some luxury condo building or pricey rentals, not all of these developments are created equal. Following up on their last infographic which rounded up the city’s top five most expensive new developments, the data gurus over at CityRealty have culled an even more extensive list which pinpoints the 12 priciest structures going up right now. While the number of zeros that follow their combined $20,000,000,000 sellout will make your head hurt, what’s even more mind-boggling is that these 12 buildings alone will count for nearly HALF of the money that’ll be generated by the 200+ condo projects underway in Manhattan.
It’s definitely been a big number game at Chetrit‘s Sony Building conversion–from the 96 luxury condos they’ll add to floors 14 to 33 of the 37-story tower, to the planned $1.8 billion sellout, to the $150 million triplex penthouse, which, if sold, would be both the city’s priciest unit in history (if not eclipsed by the $175 million unit at 220 Central Park South) as well as the largest at 21,504 square feet. And now the Post reports that Chetrit is going to up the ante at 550 Madison Avenue by turning part of the commercial space on the lower floors into a luxury Parisian hotel.