The design re-envisions the building’s public space as a generously expanded, densely vegetated garden. As a vibrant sensory retreat, its transformation draws upon the architectural heritage, the activity of the neighborhood, and the natural history of the region. As a privately-owned public space (POPS) that invites people to slow down, linger, and connect to one another and their surroundings, 550 Madison’s new garden embraces the powerful contemporary role POPS can play within the context of New York’s ever-changing urban fabric.
East Midtown is characterized by a density of commercial buildings and retail storefronts, and the neighborhood of Community Board 5 has the least amount of open and recreation space in the entire borough. At 50% larger than the existing exterior public space, the new garden is designed as a complement to neighboring POPS and reconnects the building into the street life of East Midtown, while offering an immersive, verdant respite in the city.
The new garden will open up the public space along the west end of the tower, transforming it into a series of interconnected outdoor ‘rooms’ that provide both quiet spaces and larger, more open areas. Partially covered by a new glass canopy and formed by a series of intersecting circles in plan, the geometry of these rooms takes cues from Philip Johnson’s playful use of circular motifs both at 550 Madison and in his larger body of work. These circular rooms invite passersby to linger as they meander through, allowing the garden to accommodate a variety of experiences for its visitors: to meet over lunch and socialize, to find respite beside the water feature, or to experience a tactile connection to nature. Conceptually, the landscape responds to the canyon-like verticality of Midtown Manhattan, with a verdant, layered topography that lifts up along the west side of the garden, both minimizing the impact of existing tower service infrastructure while providing a sense of being immersed in the garden.
Most importantly, the presence of vegetation along both street edges will announce the entries, creating inviting front doors to the garden.
Carefully selected plantings—including evergreens, perennials, and flowering shrubs—celebrate the dynamic seasonality of the Northeastern climate, creating a garden that is responsive to changing seasons and natural light conditions. Over 40 trees will be planted where today there are none. These, along with other plantings, will encourage a variety of birds, butterflies, and other pollinators to flourish in this shared urban habitat. A central water wall, accessible from the garden and visible from the renovated interior lobby, will provide auditory relief from the commotion of the neighborhood by attenuating sounds of the city. Details embedded in the materiality of the garden tell the many cultural and environmental histories of the site, creating a sense of discovery and intrigue. Information about the site’s environmental history and seasonality will be embedded within the proposed seating and walking surfaces.
In the tradition of the great pocket parks of New York City like Paley Park or the MoMA Sculpture Garden, the garden at 550 Madison seeks to re-shape how we occupy the city by heightening our attention to our surroundings, encouraging people to stay and take pleasure in a part of the city that is typically rushed through. Together with the revitalized tower, the project better connects the building back into the activity of the street. 550 Madison will lead the transformation of East Midtown as it evolves for the needs of a contemporary workforce and a diversity of tenants, while ensuring it remains a world-class business district.
About 550 Madison
Designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, 550 Madison is a global architectural destination and signal example of postmodernism. The Olayan Group acquired 550 Madison in 2016, and the building became New York City’s youngest landmark in 2018.
Originally built in 1984 for single-tenant occupancy, the interior renovation and reimagined public space will renew this important landmark as a state-of-the-art office tower, providing a sustainable model for historic and adaptive reuse. 550 Madison will open this year as a multi-tenant building for the first time, and will be the only LEED Platinum and WELL Gold certified building in the Plaza District.
The 850,000-square-foot building features an unparalleled experience in East Midtown with 14-foot high ceilings; large, column-free floor plates; north, south, east, and west-facing views of New York City; river to river sightlines; and offices overlooking Central Park.
Olayan is working with development partners RXR Realty and Chelsfield on the revitalization of 550 Madison. AECOM Tishman is the Construction Manager for the revitalization of 550 Madison. CBRE is the exclusive leasing agent for the building.
Design Architect and Landscape Architect: Snøhetta
Architect of Record: AAI
Landscape Architect of Record: SiteWorks
Development Team: The Olayan Group, RXR Realty, Chelsfield
The design re-envisions the building’s public space as a generously expanded, densely vegetated garden. As a vibrant sensory retreat, its transformation draws upon the architectural heritage, the activity of the neighborhood, and the natural history of the region. As a privately-owned public space (POPS) that invites people to slow down, linger, and connect to one another and their surroundings, 550 Madison’s new garden embraces the powerful contemporary...
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