As the design architect and landscape architect for the developer Olayan Group, Snøhetta has repositioned the landmarked 1980s tower originally designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee for a new age while transforming an existing but underutilized Privately-Owned Public Space (POPS) into a lavishly planted, year-round garden. This expansive role includes the conceptual re-thinking of the tower’s structural core for multi-tenant occupancy and the redesign of the tower’s ground level public areas to be more transparent, accessible, and verdant. Additionally, Snøhetta reconfigured the tower’s working floors to create more usable office space while also overhauling environmental systems across the property in pursuit of LEED Platinum and WELL Gold certifications.
A new Garden for Midtown Manhattan
Conceived as a union between the canyon-like qualities of Midtown Manhattan and the Hudson River palisades of Upstate New York and New Jersey, the Garden’s design invites visitors to see the landscape as an expression of the physical energy, vibrant color, and the social energy of Midtown.
The Garden and tower repositioning embrace the power of creating new views of the city. Snøhetta’s new lobby window provides glimpses in from Madison Avenue, while the Garden itself unfolds across the block as a series of interconnected rounded rooms. From within the Garden, layered views and unexpected perspectives of the mansard roofs and glass atriums of nearby buildings mingle with the conifer trees, flowering shrubs, and curving stonework of the Garden walls.
Within the Garden, a sculptural waterfall animates the air with trickling water, inset loggias offer shady seating areas, and sociable outdoor seating shifts visitors’ perspectives. New retail kiosks are accessible yet well-situated. One, is embedded within a cascade of stone walls, in another, a rounded wooden bench sits tucked within a grove of the tower’s chamfered columns. Once characterized by indoor shopping, 550 Madison now aims to become a multi-seasonal draw for people to enjoy life and rhythms of the city.
The circular footprints of each of the Garden’s seating areas also reference the classically inspired arches of the tower’s architecture and its figural “Chippendale” top. A cloistered bench nestled into the crook of the Garden’s hill offers a place for quiet contemplation and intimate conversation that doubles as a hearth during winter. Regionally specific plants set amongst a collection of circular planters and seating areas create a draw for birds and pollinators, while the broad swoop of a super-scaled bench creates areas for impromptu chats, group lunches, and people-watching.
In each outdoor room, the history of the site is quietly captured by the selection of plantings and other materials and engravings that hint to the stories of the past while evoking the next chapter of Midtown.