Redesigned With Amenities, the Chippendale Building Tries to Lure Workers

New York Times

Victoria M. Walker, 1.15.23

Now known as 550 Madison, the historic Chippendale Building has been updated with a new gym, a full kitchen and an outdoor garden to welcome people back to the office.

The Chippendale building, officially called 550 Madison, was designed by Philip Johnson and completed in 1984, and its neoclassical arch and pink granite were hard to miss.

Once home to Sony and AT&T, it remains an eyesore to some, but to others, like James Harris, who has worked in the building since 1996 and is currently the lead safety director, there is “something special” about the building that sits on East 55th Street and Madison Avenue.

As people return to the office after working remotely for the past few years, the building is now aiming to offer workers something they can’t get in their living rooms or neighborhood coffee shop — “collaboration and being in the office,” Erik Horvat, the head of real estate at Olayan America, an investment group, said.

The developers at 550 Madison Avenue are banking on amenities — a gym, a full kitchen, an outdoor garden.

Not everyone is a fan of the renovations, especially preservationists hoping to keep the building in its postmodern state. In 2017, the architecture critic Alexandra Lange said the initial proposed renovations to the building’s facade cut Johnson’s “groundbreaking postmodern tower off at the knees,” likening it to an Apple store. A Change.org petition “aggressively dedicated” to the building’s preservation garnered just over 2,550 signatures. (The building received landmark status in the summer of 2018, with the committee calling 550 Madison one of the world’s “most important postmodernist buildings.”)

“When working on an architecturally important building like 550 Madison there are always passionate opinions from people who truly care about the city’s built environment. We listened and learned, pivoting to address feedback from the preservation community. The process ultimately led to a better product,” Mr. Horvat later said in a statement.

The renovation is a collaborative project: The architecture firm Snøhetta took on the design for the outdoor garden space, while the Rockwell Group designed the amenity spaces. The insurance firm Chubb and the French luxury brand Hermès signed a deal for space in the building, but will workers want to come back?


These interviews have been lightly edited for clarity.


Erik Horvat, head of real estate, Olayan America

There is no magic pill that you take that makes everybody come back to work. What I’ve seen be successful so far for us was you create healthy, beautiful spaces that people want to work at. That’s the best you can do right now. Do people still want the flexibility to be home for the guy that needs to check the sink that doesn’t work? Yeah. But, ultimately, you’ll bring more people back to the office if you have space.

There are a lot of challenges in the office building, and I would tell you that this is the type of office building everybody I think in the city would hope to have.

What’s become bigger with office buildings since the pandemic: It’s health and wellness, and it’s amenities. Those are two things people believe will bring people back.

Read all the interviews on the New York Times website