Snøhetta-designed public garden at 550 Madison Avenue secures city approval

The City Planning Commission has approved plans for Snøhetta to reimagine the enclosed plaza of the Postmodern skyscraper at 550 Madison Avenue.

The design firm plans to transform the dark, underutilized space (which is a Privately Owned Public Space, or POPS), into an airy garden with a glass canopy and plenty of greenery.

The garden links to the building’s lobby—also in the midst of a transformation—and will boost the site’s footprint by 21,000 square feet. Nearly half of that will be planted with an array of evergreens, perennials, and flowering shrubs to create a lush green space that offers a retreat from midtown’s glass and steel skyscrapers while celebrating the “Northeastern climate,” says Michelle Delk, head of landscape architecture at Snøhetta.

“This new garden complements the adjacent tower while drawing upon the vibrancy of the neighborhood and the natural history of the region, offering visitors an immersive respite in the city,” Delk said in a statement.

The Philip Johnson- and John Burgee-designed landmark was acquired by Olayan Group in 2016. A year later, the developer announced a partnership with Snøhetta to revamp the skyscraper. But the design, which would have replaced much of the building’s facade with a glass wall, did not sit well with preservationists and architecture critics.

The development team went back to the drawing board, and in 2018, unveiled a new “preservation-first” design for the building’s exterior and POPS. To create that new space, builders will remove some of the existing retail and dismantle an annex that was added when Sony owned the building in the 1990s.

When all is said the done the space will boast 21,300 square feet, 42 new trees, eight bike racks, and seven public restrooms, according to Olayan Group.