Completed in 1984 as the headquarters of the telecommunications giant AT&T, the postmodern Philip Johnson and John Burgee–designed tower at 550 Madison has been the subject of a series of controversial renovations over the last two years. Today, the developer behind the Snøhetta and Gensler revamp of the former AT&T building, The Olayan Group, has released the first look at its new interiors.
Designed by Gensler, the new lobby has been rendered in a basic Midtown office building palette of bronze and terrazzo, offset with large expanses of white marble which seem to contrast rather starkly in material, color, and proportion. The basic visual language of the architecture of the original lobby were worked into the new design, making for what architect Philippe Paré claims in a press release is a “powerful expression of the building’s character.” Recessed lighting embedded in the ceiling arcs and cutaways creates a formal distinction with a minimal hand. The lobby is designed to connect to Snøhetta’s proposed garden, which should be visible through the lobby’s rear windows (though the outdoor space will only be accessible through side doors).
550 Madison is the youngest building to receive landmark status in New York, though only the exterior is protected; the original interior was demolished early last year. Additionally, the pair of site-specific Dorothea Rockburne murals that were added in 1994 when Sony owned the building—and that some feared would be destroyed or moved—will be preserved in a “sky lobby” seven stories up. The forms in the tiles pictured in the lobby’s floor vaguely seem to echo the shapes of the 30-foot-by-29–foot pair of paintings.
In addition to Gensler’s lobby renovation, Snøhetta intends to replace the enclosed Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman rear plaza with an expanded garden, open up the Madison Avenue loggias with large glass panes, and reconfigure the current elevator arrangement. This renovation is a more modest proposal after a plan to replace the base of the building’s granite facade with sheer glass was met with backlash. Originally designed for 800 workers, current plans are meant to fit in as many as 3,000.
The former AT&T Building is expected to reopen in 2020 as a multi-tenant office tower with LEED Platinum certification and will include ground-floor retail and expanded public space.