Snøhetta’s Design for 550 Madison Garden Gets Approval

John Hill
8. January 2020
Visualization: Snøhetta and MOARE

In the latest news on the renovation of Philip Johnson's iconic Postmodern AT&T Building, Snøhetta's design for an open-air garden to replace the formerly enclosed atrium was approved by the New York City Planning Commission.

The space that sits behind the 37-story tower now known as 550 Madison is a privately owned public space (POPS) that was incorporated when AT&T built the tower in 1984 in order to gain additional floor space. Originally open on the ends, the space was enclosed when AT&T sold the building to Sony the following decade. The latest iteration opens up the public space once again, putting it beneath a new roof with new amenities, including kiosks and seating in circular areas that play off the circular apertures in Johnson's tower.

A photograph of the enclosed POPS at bottom compared with a rendering of the new garden design from the same vantage point at top.

This latest news comes eleven months after the Olayan Group and the rest of the development team gained Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approval for the renovation of the tower. It was Snøhetta's second pass at the design, after its first redesign was met with immediate blowback by preservationists and the LPC subsequently designated 550 Madison a New York City landmark. The design of the public space – larger, greener and more inviting than its predecessor – has basically been exempt from criticism, so the official approval from NYC Planning is not surprising.

Visualization: Snøhetta and MOARE

Most notably, the redesigned POPS will include 40 trees – 40 more than its predecessor. Most of them will be located on the west side of the space, where a "layered topography," per Snøhetta, will "[minimize] the impact of existing tower service infrastructure [and provide] a sense of being immersed in the garden."

Drawing: Snøhetta

A curved waterfall will sit in the middle of the garden, on axis with tower's redesigned lobby. This water feature will help in shielding the noise of traffic in busy Midtown Manhattan, though it also recalls earlier outdoor rooms in the area, most notably Paley Park, just two blocks away.

Drawing: Snøhetta

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