This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.
Brutalist sculpture or windowless bunker? This conspicuous 550-foot-tall tower attracts considerable curiosity from people who pass by it on Church Street, prompting a deluge of strong opinion, both pro and con. Completed in 1974, the AT&T Long Lines Building is the largest and most recent in a series of architecturally distinguished structures built by this communications giant in Lower Manhattan. John Carl Warnecke, the Californian architect who also designed President John F. Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery, as well numerous buildings for the U.S. government, was responsible for this powerfully simple, free-standing abstract form.
The large projections that extend out from the three most visible facades contain such necessities as elevators, staircases, and air ducts. These prominent ventilation openings ring the 10th and 29th floors and somewhat recall the curved funnels that punctuate the decks of steamships. Such features may also suggest the influence of Warnecke’s contemporary Robert Venturi, who encouraged architects to design buildings that incorporate bold decorative elements that express their function. AT&T executives were surely pleased with the results and when Philip Johnson designed the company’s Madison Avenue headquarters less than a decade later a similar pink granite was used.
The interiors were designed with high ceilings and large floor plates, spaces where telephone-switching equipment is housed and can be easily maintained. Aesthetic choices were, in part, also shaped by security concerns. Not only is the Thomas Street entrance raised far above the sidewalk (similar to the plan of One World Trade Center), but this critical communications facility was also reportedly planned to withstand a nuclear blast.
Several blocks north, at 32 Sixth Avenue, stands the earlier AT&T Long Distance Building. Designed by Ralph Walker, the Art Deco style elevations have conventional rows of windows, an attempt, perhaps, to camouflage the building’s original function. Here, however, no attempt was made. The four facades rise without fenestration and the granite surface has no major openings or interruptions. While this strategy confirms the absence of staff and related office space, it also gives the building a more monumental character, closer to a work of sculpture than a mere functional container.
– Matthew A. Postal