Snøhetta’s design for the public garden and revitalization of The Olayan Group’s 550 Madison received final and unanimous approval from the City Planning Commission this week, following the approval from Manhattan Community Board 5 in December. 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.
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.
Tthe 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. Source by Snøhetta.