(I admire its San Francisco Museum of Modern Art expansion and even contributed an essay to a book about it.) So far, though, Dykers’s strategy for injecting amiability into 550 Madison is a mixture of fine and potentially tragic.
He leaves the crown and torso pretty much alone, concentrating architectural firepower on the base.
Some would like to see the tower landmarked, the 1992 refurbishment reversed, and the opera-set-like arcade restored to its authentic gloom.
Snøhetta’s co-founder Craig Dykers says that he and his team have registered those criticisms and are working on ways to address them, but preserving AT&T as a museum piece would never work.
One clue to that conflict lies in the three oversize portholes along each side, which once brought light into the colonnade and have since been blocked up by vents.
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Snøhetta would open them up again — an excellent idea — but also replace the circular frame of Renaissance-ish stones with a thin modernist metal band.“Not addressing the fundamental challenges would be a disservice to an important building,” he says.“If we were doctors and we saw some symptoms, we wouldn’t just give the patient a happy pill.” At first blush, Snøhetta would seem to be the right firm for the job.No architectural monument in New York has stirred up such passionate ambivalence as Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building at 550 Madison Avenue.Widely mocked and grudgingly admired, the emblematic tower of the postmodern age made its pop-culture debut as a scale model that its maker held aloft like a trophy on the cover of critic, was both entranced and suspicious.Once built, the rose-granite exterior, fanciful headgear, and imperial-scale and heavily shadowed arcade on the ground floor declared that a corporate high-rise could be outlandish, even divalike.The fact that the owner and client was one of the nation’s most ubiquitous and dour monopolies — one that was broken up by the courts even as its headquarters opened — only made the project’s eccentricities more intriguing.Sony moved out in 2016, and since then the tower has remained vacant.Now it’s the Norma Desmond of skyscrapers, built for another era but hoping for a glorious third act.“On my first visit in 1985 I immediately found the entrance halls and arcades foreboding,” he wrote. It was likely also an expression of AT&T’s reluctance to have nonemployees hanging around its offices.Having worked there for six months during the Sony years, I, too, found that the grandiloquence quickly gets old.