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Old Posted Feb 12, 2019, 9:22 PM
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LPC approves Snøhetta’s new design for 550 Madison Avenue
Architects will revitalize the building’s foreboding POPS with an airy glass canopy

By Caroline Spivack
Feb 12, 2019

The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission paved the way for Snøhetta to partially redesign Philip Johnson’s Postmodern skyscraper at 550 Madison Avenue Tuesday with a vote backing the contested plan.

After more than an hour of discussion, the commission unanimously voted to approve the proposed changes with a handful of minor modifications to ensure the building’s materials remain uniform and to keep the alterations in line with the structure’s overall character.

“The proposal mitigates and, maybe incrementally, gets back to the spirit of the original intent in that it brightens up the store front, it sets them back, instead of sort of a bleak view on Madison Avenue it gives you a sense of more open quality,” said Sarah Carroll, the chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. “And given where we are today, I think that [the proposal’s] steps are the appropriate steps.”

The biggest change to the property, which was granted landmark status in July 2018, is the privately-owned public space (POPS) at the ground level. Nick Anderson, a senior architect at Snøhetta who is working on the redevelopment, described the space as “tall, skinny, and dark” but Snøhetta’s new plan would completely overhaul the space with an airy glass canopy and seating for more than 260 people.

“It has always been sort of a dark and bizarre space for me and so I feel this new space enhances that wonderful building that I love,” Commissioner Michael Devonshire, who is the director of conservation at Jan Hird Pokorny Associates, Inc. “It is delicate enough that it actually enhances the Phillip Johnson construct for me.”

To create that new space, builders will remove some of the existing retail and dismantle an annex that was added when Sony bought the building in the 1990s. When all is said the done the space will boast 21,300 square feet, 42 new trees, eight bike racks, and seven public restrooms, according to the building’s owner The Olayan Group.
The plan also calls for revamping the interior—which is outside of the LPC’s purview. Additionally, the building’s entire mechanical systems including HVAC and elevators will be replaced with eco-friendly upgrades in efforts of achieving LEED platinum, Wired, and WELL certifications—prestigious sustainability standards. Overall, the building will go from accommodating fewer than 1,000 employees to, eventually, housing some 3,000 workers.

Now that the proposal has earned the LPC’s approval, exterior work on the Madison Avenue building can more forward. The office tower is on track to reopen in 2020, according to The Olayan Group.

“With modern interiors, a world-class public open space, and preserved façade, the building will once again attract top companies to East Midtown,” The Olayan Group said in a statement.
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