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A New Public Garden on Madison Avenue

550 Madison Avenue

A half-acre public garden opened earlier this month at 550 Madison Avenue. Photo: Barrett Doherty.

A newly imagined public plaza recently opened between 55th and 56th streets on Madison Avenue. 550 Madison was purchased by the Olayan Group in 2016, and has since been undergoing renovations led by architecture firm Snøhetta.

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As part of this project, what was previously described as a “dismal corporate alleyway” and “barely more than a glorified hallway” has been transformed into a luscious Midtown oasis, featuring a large variety of trees, shrubs, plants and plenty of seating. Also available are public bathrooms, interesting eateries, and, of course, somewhere to buy a cup of coffee.

Black Fox Coffee 550 Madison

Black Fox Coffee Co. uses seasonal coffee beans roasted in Brooklyn. In addition to an assortment of espresso and coffee drinks, Black Fox Coffee Co. offers tea, matcha, hot chocolate, pastries and cakes.

Eat Offbeat 550 Madison Avenue

Eat Offbeat is a social impact food company that showcases international foods made by refugee and immigrant chefs. Customers can personalize their meal with a choice of grain topped with Senegalese Chicken Yassa, Venezuelan Carne Mechada or Sri Lankan Katarica Curry.

Originally completed in 1984, 550 Madison was built as AT&T’s headquarters (and was briefly known as “The AT&T Building). Another notable nickname is “The Chippendale Building;” a moniker gained due to the facade’s resemblance to a Chippendale grandfather clock.

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This design caused considerable controversy when it was first unveiled – in part because it indicated a turn toward postmodernism in New York City architecture. However, since that time, the pale pink building has become an iconic part of the city’s skyline; so much so that an early Snøhetta proposal to change the exterior significantly led to the building’s landmark designation in 2018.

A 70-foot glass canopy covers the new space, capturing 93,000 gallons of rainwater annually to sustainably irrigate the entire garden. Photo: Barrett Doherty.

550 Madison’s outdoor arcade is one of the city’s many Privately Owned Public Spaces. POPS, as they’re also known, are spaces that are maintained by private property owners and available for use by the general public. In exchange for creating publicly accessible space, building owners may receive zoning incentives, such as permission to add additional floors. While there are at least 590 POPS in the city, many are unattractive, uninviting, or simply inaccessible.

550 Madison Public Plaza

The newly unveiled garden also comes with 48 trees, 200 shrubs, 6,300 bulb plants, 10,000 herbaceous understory plantsPhoto: Barrett Doherty.

But not 550 Madison. At least, not any more. The newly designed green space (which even has a waterfall) is now open, and accessible every day from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Considering that the entire area is covered, while still maintaining an open and airy atmosphere, this may be clutch for the colder months!
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