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550 Madison’s lobby is razed as support continues to mount for landmark status

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Manhattan Community Board 5’s landmarks committee has approved a resolution that supports landmarking the exterior of Philip Johnson’s postmodern office building

Snøhetta’s revamp includes replacing the postmodern building’s monumental lower facade with glass curtainwall.

Manhattan’s Community Board 5 landmarks subcommittee has drafted and approved a resolution that recommends landmarking the exterior of the former AT&T and Sony headquarters at 550 Madison Avenue.

The resolution comes too late for the building’s lobby, which has been demolished amid cries from preservationists for its landmarking. CB5 Landmarks Committee Chair Layla Law-Gisiko confirmed to Architect’s Newspaper, who reported on the CB5 subcommittee meeting, that the lobby has indeed been razed.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission has yet to calendar a hearing for the exterior of Philip Johnson’s famed postmodern office building, but decided in November that the lobby was not worthy of landmark status owing to a 1990s renovation that enclosed its former public arcades in favor of retail space.

The call for the building’s interior and exterior landmarking erupted in October, when architecture firm Snøhetta unveiled its proposal to renovate the building into office space befitting of the 21st century by exposing the monumental base of the building by partially replacing its stone facade with a two-story undulating glass curtain.

At Tuesday evening’s CB5 subcommittee meeting, David Laurie, managing director for developer Chelsfield America, said that the company along with 550 Madison owner Olayan America have taken their role as the building’s stewards “very seriously.” With the interior demolition of the existing lobby, the companies plan on delivering on the building’s long-held promise for public space.

The lobby’s reconfiguring will bring a public garden that’s slightly larger than MoMA’s sculpture garden to the space. AN notes that the garden will come to replace the annex that occupied a mid-block passageway between 55th and 56th streets. The rest of the lobby, and the retail that flanks it, will remain largely unchanged.

The resolution drafted by the subcommittee recommends the designation of the building’s exterior and chastises the LPC for approving demolition permits for the lobby. The full community board will vote on the resolution today.

The city’s community boards serve in an advisory role, but the Landmarks Preservation Commission will take CB5’s decision into account when deciding on the fate of the exterior of 550 Madison Avenue.


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