A Postmodernist Icon

The AT&T Building by Philip Johnson and John Burgee

As the most famous example of Postmodernist architecture in the world, the AT&T International Corporate Headquarters (now the Sony Building) designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee stands out in the New York skyline with its pink granite façade and its "Chippendale" ornamental top. With decorative elements inspired by architectural history, as well as dramatic soaring spaces such as a seven-story lobby, the building contrasts starkly with the minimalist aesthetic and functionalism of modernism. Controversial yet highly identifiable, Johnson and Burgee’s 37-floor landmark structure at 550 Madison Avenue is credited with placing Postmodernism on the international stage.

Image courtesy of Bill Pierce/TIME&LIFE Images/Getty Images

Architect John Burgee recalls that the controversy surrounding the building started with the large presentation model offered here. Johnson and Burgee made the large model for a dramatic unveiling of their design for the board of AT&T; but, it was when a photograph of the model and Philip Johnson was published in numerous newspapers and magazines, including TIME magazine, that the building caused uproar within the architectural community. Inspired by the photograph, public discussion and critique of the unusual structure resonated around the globe and as a result, the building was an international icon, whether loved or hated, before it was even complete.

This presentation model of the renowned International Corporate Headquarters of AT&T is one of a kind. In 1981, Johnson & Burgee Architects worked with Roussel Studios to relocate AT&T’s iconic statue, The Spirit of Electricity by Evelyn B. Longman, from atop the tower of 195 Broadway to the lobby to their new Corporate Headquarters. The model was a gift from Philip Johnson to Christine Roussel at the outset of the project.