AT&T Building
560 Madison Avenue (at 56th Street)
New York NY 

Philip Johnson 1984

The AT&T building was a commercially-well-timed reaction against Miesian modernism and its derivatives:

'It has a modernist body standing on classical feet and sports a large and variously defined ornament as a head. There is at once a referential anthropomorphism and a bond with the grand New York skyscraper architecture, exemplified by the Empire State and Chrysler buildings, which flourished before the nihilism of the Miesian box took over. The base, moreover, is modeled deliberately on that of New York City's Municipal Building created by the classicizing firm of McKim, Mead & White in 1908 - hence the large central arch... and the columned arcade. In addition, the architectural decoration of the base is densely evocative of sacred building types: the oculi recall the Duomo in Florence, the arcades... are reminiscent of San Andrea in Mantua, and the Carolingian lobby with its gilded cross vault and Romanesque capitals... fuse into a Pazzi Chapel centering on the hilariously kitschy, gilded statue of the Genius of Electricity... 

The pediment... culminates with symbolic references, depending on one's orientation, to car grilles, a grandfather clock, a Chippendale highboy, and as an in-joke, a monumental reference to the split pediment used earlier by Venturi for his mother's house... The building thrives on this very multivalency that despite all the carping... brought back the representational and historicizing architecture of New York's skyscrapers.'

Karl Galinsky (no connection with this site), Classical and Modern Interactions, 1992

Carter Wiseman describes the building as 'a unique fusion of aesthetic rebellion and corporate commerce... less architecture than it was logo, less work of art than hood ornament.'

That the AT&T building was created by Philip Johnson, who brought the International Style to America in 1932 with his MoMA exhibition and designed such pure modernist forms as the Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut is the first irony of this building. 

The second irony is that if the building was a logo, it was a totally unsuitable one for its client. As AT&T tried to rejuvenate itself in the late 1980s, the last thing it needed was a massive granite corporate headquarters with authoritative classical references. It left the building in 1992. 

Philip Johnson completed this building in the same year as PPG Place in Pittsburgh, a strikingly different but logically similar post-modernist approach. 


Simon Glynn 2001


How to visit

The building is open during office hours, accessible from Madison Avenue at 56th Street. It is now occupied by Sony Music. For information call 
+1 212 833 8000.


Books and other web sites

Click the book title to view and to order direct from


The architecture of Philip Johnson
Philip Johnson, Richard Payne (Photographer), Hilary Lewis, Stephen Fox

The authorized and up-to-date account of Philip Johnson's wide-ranging and long-spanning architectural career

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