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Philip Johnson's postmodern Midtown skyscraper should be landmarked, say activists

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The tower at 550 Madison Avenue became eligible for landmark status in 2014

Snøhetta’s redesign will bring a two-story glass curtain wall to the base of the postmodern stone building.

Snøhetta’s proposal to update the postmodern office building at 550 Madison Avenue designed by Philip Johnson with a two-story glass curtain wall at its base, announced on Monday, has ignited fierce pushback from New York’s architecture community. Now, a citizens coalition of architecture buffs are calling for the former AT&T and Sony headquarters to become a New York City landmark, and are staging a protest at the site on Friday to spread the word.

Thomas H. Collins, a former manager and architecture book buyer at Rizzoli, submitted a Request for Evaluation with the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday to designate the building an individual landmark, as well as an interior landmark. “The treatment of the lower floors with the Palladian entrance arch and arcade as are integral to the design as the Chippendale top,” writes Collins in his appeal to the commissioners.

The building became eligible for landmark status in 2014, 30 years after its completion in 1984. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission does not have a long history of bestowing the honor on postmodern architecture, and just eight of New York’s 119 interior landmarks were completed after 1950, Collins notes.

The base as of now.
Wikipedia - Matthew G. Bisanz

The city’s most recent interior landmark, barring the interiors of the Waldorf-Astoria, are the Ambassador Grill and the lobby within the United Nations Plaza Hotel designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo & Associates in 1975 and 1983. If the commission were to landmark the lobby of 550 Madison Avenue, it would become the youngest interior landmark to grace the list.

On news of Snøhetta’s proposal, Curbed’s architecture critic Alexandra Lange wrote that the proposed alteration “cuts Philip Johnson's groundbreaking postmodern tower off at the knees, upsetting the balance between its arched bottom and Chippendale top.”

The AIA Guide to New York credits the “granite hulk” with inspiring a departure from the glass that defined modern architecture to the stone that would come to encapsulate postmodernism. The guide also calls the building’s atrium “smashing, its quarter-arched glass roof truly reminiscent in scale of the ancestral Milan Galleria, by Giuseppe Mengoni.”

The protest will take take place outside of 550 Madison Avenue from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, November 3. A Facebook event for the protest can be found here.

United Nations

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