The nearly year-long effort to protect postmodern icon 550 Madison’s exteriors has finally paid off. On Tuesday, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously voted to designate the 37-story office tower a New York City landmark.
Designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, the building is often seen as postmodernism’s first commercial skyscraper. It was commissioned by AT&T and built between 1978 and 1984. It was meant to serve as the AT&T corporate headquarters building, but the company was never able to fully occupy the building. Instead they leased it to Sony, which subsequently purchased the building in the 1990s.
The office tower stands out among its glassy neighbors on Madison Avenue between East 55th and 56th Streets, and is notable for its pinkish-gray granite exterior, the massive broken pediment at the top, and the 120-foot arches at the base, which are flanked by groups of flat arches.
Between 1992-1994, Sony brought on Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman Architects to revamp the retail portion at the base, and cover large portions of the formerly open public spaces. Regardless, many of the standout features of the building remain intact, and the Commission was unanimous in its recognition of the building as an NYC icon.
“This is the building that established postmodernism as a legitimate architectural movement,” said LPC vice chair Frederick Bland, in a statement. “It deserves to be preserved for future generations.”
The Olayan Group has owned the building since 2016. It came into focus once again in the fall of 2017 when Snøhetta was tapped to reimagine the skyscraper as a contemporary office space with a transparent base. That didn’t go down too well with many architecture critics and preservationists, and the push to have it landmarked got underway.
For its part, the development team, which is also comprised of Chelsfield America and RXR Realty, has been supportive of designation. At a public hearing in June, 31 people spoke in favor of landmarking the skyscraper, and the LPC received an additional 11 letters in support of designation. The development team has vowed to work with the LPC following the designation, and will present an altered proposal in the coming months.
“Since acquiring the building, we have taken our role as stewards of this important building very seriously,” a statement issued by the owners read. “We look forward to an ongoing dialogue with the LPC and other stakeholders to preserve 550 Madison’s legacy as a commercial Class A destination in East Midtown, with smart and sensitive modifications to serve modern tenants.”
- Postmodern icon 550 Madison Avenue is one step closer to becoming a landmark [Curbed]
- Postmodern icon 550 Madison Avenue will get a contemporary Snøhetta revamp [Curbed]
- Philip Johnson’s postmodern Midtown skyscraper should be landmarked, say activists [Curbed]