Grey Room

When Windows Were Wires: The Projection of Network Invulnerability and the Architecture of AT&T Long Lines

Addison Godel

Telephone exchange at 33 Thomas Street, New York. Photograph by the author, 2013.


Godel solves the architectural riddle of a windowless skyscraper, AT&T Long Lines Building at 33 Thomas Street in New York (1967–74), through an analysis of its material realities and seemingly immaterial effects: as a keystone in a vast technical network, a contested meeting point between that network and its labor force, and a rhetorical figure within a military-industrial imaginarium of danger. The result is a methodical historical reconstruction of life and death within the intricate (and massively dense) architecture of telephony, a critical perspective on Cold War mythologies of “invulnerability” and “hardening,” and insight into the perhaps perverse formalism of architects working in the service of the world’s largest corporation in relation to a rapidly shifting architectural and urban theoretical landscape. Godel also prompts the reader to ask difficult questions about the enduring impact of the mid–twentieth century infrastructure of telephony on contemporary efforts to find an architectural articulation of contemporary communications technologies, corporate citizenship, and shibboleths justifying defensiveness and fear.