Architects rally to save Philip Johnson’s post-modern icon from Snohetta proposals

Terry Farrell has urged New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to protect Philip Johnson’s AT&T building from Snohetta’s “detrimental” proposals to rip off the street-level facade.

He urged the commission to “do the right thing” and learn from Historic England which is working on a post-modernism project at the moment. It began by listing Farrell’s Comyn Ching project last year and John Outram’s pumping station in June.

Farrell, whose book Revisiting Postmodernism is published this month, is the latest leading figure in the profession to voice his fears over Snohetta’s plans.

Architects including Robert AM Stern, and Farrell’s co-author Adam Nathaniel Furman, held a demonstration this weekend in support of the 1984 skyscraper, waving placards with slogans including “Po-mo power” and “Hands off my Johnson”.

Norman Foster said on Instagram he was in Europe and unable to join the protest. He admitted: “I was never sympathetic to the short-lived post-modern movement – and this building in particular. However it is an important part of our heritage and should be respected as such.”

More than 1,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to stop the proposals which would replace the masonry with a glass curtain wall.

It states: “Philip Johnson’s AT&T building is the defining icon of post-modern architecture and a towering tribute to the monumental masonry skyscrapers of the 1920s. It is in danger of losing its exemplary granite base, a destruction that would shatter the artistic integrity of Johnson’s meticulous design. This must not be allowed to happen. We are aggressively dedicated to the preservation of Johnson’s delicious crowning achievement. Please join us in preserving one of the seminal landmarks of the 20th Century. #saveatt.”

Terry Farrell on the threat to the AT&T building

Although its signature finial steals most of the headlines, one of the defining qualities of Johnson’s AT&T building – seldom seen by those who haven’t actually visited it – is its base.

It is monumental in scale and totally defines the building’s relationship with the street. It is a shame the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has not realised the detrimental effect the proposed changes will have.

With this in mind, it is worth remembering that last year, Historic England – albeit after some lobbying – elected to list and protect Comyn Ching from a proposal that would have been just as damaging. This move has helped to form a wave of more listings for post-modern buildings in the UK. Worth noting too, that post-modernism is a movement and Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building was instrumental in that movement. In my view, it requires protection and a watchful eye to ensure its integrity is maintained, for the sake of architectural history.

It is warming to see so many already fiercely campaigning to ensure this. I hope this show of support sends a message to the LPC who follow Historic England’s example, and that the right thing is done.

 Read Gillian Darley’s take on the threat here.