Snøhetta is leading the design of the transformation of the public realm and exterior renovations to 550 Madison, the signature postmodern landmark in Midtown Manhattan. Originally built in 1984 for single-tenant occupancy, the renovated tower and reimagined public space will renew this important landmark as a state-of-the-art, multi-tenant office tower, providing a sustainable model for historic and adaptive reuse for the needs of the contemporary workforce and ever-changing city.
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, offering the only publicly-accessible vegetated open space in the East Midtown District. 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.
Privately-owned public spaces play a significant role in New York City’s public realm. The 550 Madison Garden sits in a broader network of spaces that contribute to the livelihood of the city. Carefully attuned to the forces shaping New York's urban fabric, from environmental demands to economic pressures, the project prioritizes the sustainable practice of working to adapt existing spaces for their contemporary context.
At over 21,300 square feet, 50% larger than the existing public open space, the vibrant oasis will be the largest within a 5-minute walking radius of the building.
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.
The presence of vegetation along both street edges will announce the entries, creating inviting front doors to the garden.
Axonometric view of garden, looking north
Existing conditions - Throughout its lifetime, the building has undergone a series of renovations that have eroded the quality of the experience of the building’s public spaces at its base. In 1994, the arcade openings of the entry plaza were infilled with bay windows and retail storefronts along Madison Avenue, and the north and south ends of the rear public space were enclosed. While these changes provided retail opportunities and climate-controlled public space, the projecting bay window storefronts competed with the stone columns and dark windows hid the interior of the arcades. These issues limited both visibility and access to the spaces for the public they intended to serve.
The revitalization will respectfully preserve the defining stone elements of the tower and remove problematic interventions from the early 1990s. They are replaced with low-iron transparent glass held in place by thin mullions, allowing more daylight into the building and increasing the porosity of the entrance lobby from the street. The façade’s circular portal windows on the north and south ends of the building are also re-opened, allowing daylight into the tower podium once again.
Elevation looking west: 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.
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.