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  • ADAPTING OBSOLESCENCE - CASE 550 MADISON

  • Summer 2021

  • Bee Breeders Architecture Competition Organizer

  • SKYHIVE 2021 Skyscraper Challenge

  • 2nd Prize Winner

  • 550 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10022

  • Individual Work

Narrative

Since the construction of the Equitable Life Assurance Building in 1820, the office tower has become synonymous with white collar productivity in New York City. In the subsequent 200 years, some 450 million square feet of office space has been constructed in the five boroughs, constituting over 10% of all office space within the United States. It wasn’t until the proliferation of the internet, collaborative communication platforms, and co-working spaces, that the office began to decentralize. Then, in 2020, the Global Coronavirus Pandemic completely disrupted the corporate hierarchy, as White-Collar America transitioned to working from home, it became evident that the workforce could remain productive outside the office. It is now clear that there will never be a full return to pre-Covid workplace normalcy. This paradigm shift has rendered the commercial office tower obsolete. If this typology no longer holds value, then what should we do with the obsolete building stock? To simply demolish it would be wasteful, arrogant, and short-sighted, for two reasons. First, all constructions have inherent value simply in that they exist and were an expenditure of finite resources that can never be replaced. To dispose of them is to erase those resources forever. New York City alone produces over 3 million tons of construction waste annually, only 35% of which is returned to the production stream. Second, it is precisely this outdated building stock that gives New York its identity. The only path forward is adaptive reuse - to transform these antiquated buildings into vibrant and essential structures that serve to alleviate the two fundamental architectural crises in the city: housing and public space.

This proposal is an example of adaptive reuse design, changing landmarked office skyscrapers like the AT&T Building by Philip Johnson, currently known as 550 Madison, to residential spaces that priorities tenants and the local community, offering an accessible well-rounded live, work, and play lifestyle through the design and programming of homes and public spaces.

Jury Comments

Adapting Obsolescence proposes an ephemeral tower soars upward from the architectural vestiges of the past. The jury commented: “The dramatic design is clearly presented, with sufficient thought devoted to the structure's relationship to both its residents and to the community at large;” and: “A proposition at first undertaken with humor and wit, and though resolved with a determination for its commercial viability managing to find a better building at the end of it all.” Through the simple act of more deeply embedding a façade into the body of the building the designers have produced a solution to several aspects of the office-building-to-residences dilemma - reducing the distance from core to skin, and simultaneously providing inhabitants with outdoor spaces. The idea to not only renovate such structures but also treat them as a base for future vertical construction is promising, though one suspects that this could still be done while maintaining the historic integrity of the infamous postmodern structure depicted.

Jury Members:
- Jim Bissell, Skyscraper
- Thomas Corbasson, Associate Architect, Chartier+Corbasson Architectes
- Anastasia Elrouss, ANA-Anastasia Elrouss Architects
- Mark Foster Gage, Mark Foster Gage Architects
- Kourosh Salehi, LWK + PARTNERS
- Amin Taha, GROUPWORK