The AT&T Building in New York, now known as 550 Madison Avenue, is one of the most iconic pieces of commercial architecture in the world. It has had a huge impact on the city and beyond. The design was revealed in 1979 and was different to anything seen before.
When the design was unveiled, AT&T was arguably the largest corporate company in the world. The design represented the confidence of the business. Its height sought to dominate the skyline in the city and ensure the company stood above the competition.
Surprisingly the building was not instantly beloved, either when the design was revealed or when construction was finished in 1984. A number of people had negative things to say about the ornamental top, referring to it as Chippendale for its similarity with English cabinetry. Even with this though people loved the arcaded base and several storey tall entrance.
The building was bought in 2013 for $1.1billion. Sony, the business that took over space from AT&T, continued to lease offices until 2016 before moving out. The buyer, the Chetrit Group, revealed plans to redevelop the empty building to create condos and a hotel. They had to abandon this plan though and instead sold the property on for $1.6billion.
The new owners are Olayan and Chelsfield. They also plan to redevelop the property, adding a glass curtain wall and reworking the arcade base. The plans met vocal opposition and made the story one of the most controversial in the commercial architecture field in 2017.
The big problem with the property is that the original design for the base is elegant but deeply flawed. It has a dark interior and the kiosks are unoccupied as a result. Plans to redevelop it to make positive changes stand to lose some of the splendour of the original design. This creates a very tricky situation.
The problem comes down to one important consideration; what does a commercial property need to be successful? Sadly the AT&T Building can’t be considered to be a success because it is unoccupied. Even though it has a design that some now love, it is not serving its primary purpose.