Completed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee in 1984 as the former headquarters for AT&T and then Sony, 550 Madison stands out in Manhattan’s skyline as a polarizing postmodern icon. After acquiring 550 Madison to create a new world-class multi-tenant office space, the Olayan Group enlisted Gensler to reimagine the lobby of New York City’s youngest landmark building as part of a larger renovation effort, which also includes a modernized ground-floor podium and expanded outdoor green space by Snøhetta
To preserve 550 Madison’s history while propelling it into the future, Gensler sought to uphold the lobby’s volume and spatial proportions by applying a minimalist palette that maintains a visual relationship with existing materials. The development of the terrazzo incorporated a portion of crushed granite from the original panels to help impart tonal consistency. Bronze elements reference the landmarked curtain wall mullions and help establish a seamless relationship between exterior and interior.
The 110-foot entryway was preserved and refurbished with vaulted triple-height ceilings gently arching above the ground floor. The vault design draws inspiration from Johnson’s Brick House in using a perimeter cove light to create a ceiling that appears to be weightless. The oculus, a recognizable feature and focal point, is enhanced by the introduction of a convex surface at the back of the opening, diffusing a soft flood light aligned with the natural solar rhythm that allows for optimal scene-setting throughout the day.
Anchoring 550 Madison’s art program, the lobby features a 24-ton marble art installation by Alicja Kwade called Solid Sky. The stone sphere embraces the circular motifs of the oculus and engages with the sightline of the outdoor garden, which is visually woven into the architectural language of the lobby through a proportioned barrel vault archway. The outcome is a space that is both quiet yet powerful; respectful, yet not a reproduction; timeless, yet very much contemporary.