Sony Building (New York) in New York City

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The Sony Tower, formerly the AT&T Building, is a tall, 37-story highrise skyscraper located at 550 Madison Avenue between 55th Street and 56th Street in the New York City borough of Manhattan. It was designed by architect Philip Johnson and partner John Burgee, and was completed in 1984. It became immediately controversial for its ornamental top (sometimes mocked as "Chippendale", after the open pediments characteristic of the famous English designer's bookcases and other cabinetry), but enjoyed for its spectacular arched entranceway, measuring about seven stories in height. With these ornamental additions, the building challenged architectural modernism's demand for stark functionalism and purely efficient design. The effect the building had on the public at large has been described as legitimizing the postmodern architecture movement on the world stage.


AT&T Building

In October 1978, AT&T was granted permission to add 81928 sqft, the equivalent of some four floors of space on its proposed building, in exchange for agreeing to provide open public space and a three-story communications museum. The firm was granted an additional 43000 sqft, about two floor's worth, as a bonus for creating a 14000 sqft covered arcade along Madison Avenue that would include seating and retail kiosks.

In 1982, with the Bell System divestiture set to take effect on January 1, 1984, AT&T decided to seek a tenant to lease 300000 sqft of space on the 7th through 25th floors, nearly half the space in the building, and was seeking rents of as much as $60 per square foot. The company had expected to relocate as many as 1,500 employees, most who had been located at the company's old headquarters at 195 Broadway, but the impending divestiture meant it would only be moving 600 employees into 550 Madison, with others being moved to another facility in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.

Spirit of Communication, a 20000 lb bronze statue that had stood for 64 years on the top of AT&T's previous headquarters building at 195 Broadway, was disassembled and relocated to the lobby of 550 Madison in 1983. The 22 ft tall figure, modeled in 1916 by American sculptor Evelyn Beatrice Longman, is holding bolts of electricity clutched in one arm reaching towards the sky and has coils of cable wound around the statue's torso. After AT&T moved out of the building, the statue was relocated to a spot outside of its Basking Ridge operational headquarters in 1992.

In 1984, the company indicated that it would not build the museum that it had originally committed to build in exchange for bonus zoning. The change of heart came as part of plans following the court-ordered divestiture of the Regional Bell Operating Companies and the reduced presence it expected to have at the building.

Sony Building

In 1992, Sony submitted plans that required approval by the New York City Planning Commission, in which it would take some of the open space in the building's atrium that had been used to obtain approval for additional floors on top of the building, and convert those areas into retail space. In exchange, the company would expand the glass-enclosed pedestrian walkway with the addition of planters and public seating. Sony expected that the proposed conversion of the 8727 sqft of public space could be converted into stores that could be leased at rates that The New York Times estimated could approach $200 per square foot. The company noted that the space was underutilized as a public amenity because it was "dark, windy and noisy" and that its conversion to commercial space would provide "retail continuity" with the remainder of Madison Avenue.<ref name=NYT1992/>

By 1996, Sony had consolidated most of the operations for its Sony Music Entertainment division at 550 Madison Avenue, for which The New York Times noted that "such high-profile and elaborate space is appropriate and necessary." That same year, Sony acquired additional space across the street at 555 Madison Avenue, a 445000 sqft building built in the 1960s that underwent renovations of its lobby, windows, bathrooms and other common spaces in conjunction with Sony's lease. Sony signed leases through 2013 on an additional 90000 sqft on the sixth through ninth floors of the building, on top of an initial rental of 90000 sqft of space on the second through fifth floors of the building that it had made in 1995. Rents on the floors had averaged about $34 per square foot at the time. Sony connected the two buildings using fiber optic cables that were run under Madison Avenue and installed microwave communications equipment on the top of the 555 building. Sony made these moves, which included early termination of leases on space in the surrounding area at 711 Fifth Avenue on the 43rd floor at 9 West 57th Street, as part of an effort to lower occupancy costs by bringing its businesses closer together.

A cash-strapped AT&T sold the building to Sony in 2002 for $236 million, or $315 per square foot.

On February 27, 2010, the ice that accumulated from the Third North American blizzard of 2010 fell from an upper floor breaking the glass ceiling of the atrium and injuring at least 15 inside who were at a Purim celebration.

Sony Wonder Technology Lab

The Sony Wonder Technology Lab is a multimedia, hands-on tour through the world of media, located in a four-story annex accessible through a glass-roofed atrium that connects 55th and 56th Streets in mid-block. Open Tuesday through Saturday, Sony bills the free exhibits as a "technology and entertainment museum for all ages". During 2008, the museum's third and fourth floors underwent renovations that were expected to be completed in fall 2008. Sony Wonder replaced Infoquest Center, a permanent telecommunications exhibition that had been built by AT&T.<ref name=NYT1992/>

See also

  • List of tallest buildings in New York City
  • AT&T Corporate Center
  • Sony Building (Tokyo)


  • Dirk Stichweh: New York Skyscrapers. Prestel Publishing Company, Munich 2009,

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