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AT&T (Sony) Headquarters

Foundations of America

QU201 Prof. Scott Leone

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AT&T (Sony) Headquarters

AT&T Corporate Headquarters (Sony Building)

By Mete Seker


The 37- story Sony building (formerly known as AT&T Corporate Headquarters) located on 550 Madison Avenue, New York City has become an emblem of postmodernist structure. Designed by the famous architect Philip Johnson, this landmark blends more classic architecture with modern materials such as the pink granite used. Pink Stony Creek granite is applied all throughout the building creating an eye-catching glare all through Madison Avenue. It was an unusual material to be used for a skyscraper instead many buildings supported a glass frame that was very popular at the time. The design itself is unique, with a Chippendale top resembling an 18th century cabinet. John Burgee, Johnson’s Partner at Burgee& Johnson’s firm, contributed to the design of the building. The structure has a bolder and defined style for the executive floors than of the mid- level floors.

The AT&T building by Philip Johnson is believed to be the uprising against mainstream “Modernist” supremacy in Manhattan, with its influences of a historical wardrobe. The building has been the most widely discussed skyscraper for its time for the following reasons. Other modernist buildings of the era had a decent size entrance arch, glass veneer and a flat top. The AT&T building on the other hand had an 80-foot entrance, far too big for a medium- sized skyscraper; pink stony creek granite as veneer, and a Chippendale style top. This style furniture included a broken pediment at the top, called the rococo ornamentation. A pediment is a triangular shaped element surmounting the façade of the building.

The pictures shown are of a very nice detailing of pink stony creek granite with 10- feet diamond patterns along a gigantic arch on the main entrance. This 80-foot narrow arch is located on the building’s main entrance towering over its visitors. Since it was way to lofty for the building to support, it was sustained in place by a bridge connecting the two “halves” of the building. Inside the entrance stands a 65-foot tall lobby that has beautiful black and white marbles. Originally the building’s ground level was an open air space where people could use. In 1994, after Sony took the ownership of the building, the ground floor was enclosed in order to make better use of the public space. Now, Sony sells all of its product lines in its store called the “Sony Style.”

Along with the street- level part of the structure, art and architecture critics also praised the upper- executive floors. Seen from the photo below, the suppressed and defined areas around the window openings give the building a deeper detail. This detail included taller and wider windows that gave it the look of the classic cabinet. The mid- section floors, containing small windows, have received disapproval from critics as not being detailed enough. These floors started from 7th and escalated until the 25th floor. Philip Johnson himself is said to be unhappy with the results of this section because he wanted “deeper window reveals, rounded mullions, and glazing other than black tinted glass.” The architect was not able to get these designs and materials due to the fact of budget limits. The budget that AT&T has set aside for its new plaza was around $200 million, a vast amount of investment in the mid- seventies. The planning and projecting took place in the seventies but the building itself was completed in 1984.

Philip Cortelyou Johnson was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1906 to a wealthy family. Johnson was a descendant of the original Huguenots and his family have owned vast amount of real estate in the New England area. Johnson went to Harvard University in 1930, majoring in philosophy. Although Johnson has studied philosophy, he chose architecture as a career. After graduating, Johnson became the founder and the first director of Department of Architecture at New York’s Modern Museum of Art (MOMA). This was a big contribution to the study of architecture as it was the first museum- associated program that devoted itself to the architectural study. In 1932, Johnson released his first book, The International Style: Study of Architecture since 1922, on a type of style practiced by Ludwig Miles van der Kohe, Johnson’s mentor. The international style was a practice used in Europe and was brought back to United States by Johnson and his colleague, Henry- Russell Hitchcock. This style is very common in American skyscrapers and involves the use of concrete, glass, and steel. It also emphasizes the importance of “simple, functional, and unadorned” structures. Returning to Harvard in 1940, Johnson studied architecture in order to practice this profession. After finishing his studies, he joined with van der Kohe as the associate architect to build the Seagram building in New York City in 1956. Johnson gained a lot of publicity and fame when he constructed his own residence in 1949, the “glass house”, located in New Canaan Connecticut. The house had a very minimalistic design, using glass panels as walls, but ironically resembling the work of 18th and 19th century architects. This idea was the same with the Sony building. Using this fame, Johnson formed a partnership with John Burgee in 1967 and constructed many highly valued and publicized structures across the country such as the Pennzoil Place in Houston and New York State Theater at Lincoln Center. By then, Johnson had stopped using the word “International” to describe his works and structures and shifted to more classic architecture with decorative motifs. This phase of Johnson’s career was characterized by the creation of Boston Library’s New Wing. The Boston Public Library is also made out of stony creek granite and was constructed by Charles Follen Mckim of McKim, Mead, and White. Johnson’s last change of style occurred when working on the AT&T building. The planning and construction of the AT&T building almost took 4 years.

AT&T contacted 25 of the largest architectural firms in the country in the fall of 1975. The former AT&T headquarters at 195 Broadway was aging and also the investors were expecting a building that was more suited to the U.S.’s biggest company by revenue at the time. It had sent out four pages regarding that it was considering building a new corporate headquarters facility that would be a prestigious symbol. At first, Johnson and Burgee did not pay any attention to this work particularly because they believed that a firm needs large sums of money in order to complete a grand project such as this. Because of Johnson and Burgee’s fame, the firm was shortlisted as one of the three prospective companies. Johnson and Burgee conducted a “smooth” presentation to John deButts, the CEO of AT&T at the time, with only two photographs of the Seagram building and the Pennzoil Place. Because deButts admired their interesting characters and the fame of their previous works, Johnson & Burgee was chosen.

When Johnson decided they would choose pink Stony Creek granite for the veneer of the building, he contacted the Castelucci& Sons, who had supplied granite to Johnson’s previous projects such as the New Wing of the Boston Public Library. The quarry was located in Branford, Connecticut where granite to various buildings and statues has been provided for 150 years. The Castelucci’s acquired the quarry in 1956 and supplied granite to landmark structures such as the South Station in Boston. The rock itself had a soft flowing grain and the color of rose that attracted many architects over the years. With the funds that have become available to Castelucci& Son’s, the company grew tenfold during the early eighties.

In 1992, Sony acquired the building because AT&T had decreased in size and had trouble paying the taxes for the plaza. This was a time where Japanese investors were flocking to United States in order to buy property in New York City.




Charm, Robert E.. "Granite's rise to rock of this age puts Providence stoneworkers in the pink; Castellucci & Sons builds success on recent popularity of rose-colored stone. (company profile)." New England Business. 1986. Retrieved October 22, 2010 from accessmylibrary: http://www.accessmylibrary.com/article-1G1-4450402/granite-rise-rock-age.html

Harmon, Justin. "Philip Johnson." Pop Culture Universe: Icons, Idols, Ideas. ABC CLIO, n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2010.



"Philip C. Johnson." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 23 Oct. 2010


Varnelis, Kazys. "Philip Johnson's Empire: Network Power and the ATT&T Building ." Editorial. Varnelis.net. N.p., 19 Feb. 2006. Web. 23 Oct. 2010.


Last Updated on Monday, 01 November 2010 21:42  


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