Olayan American and Chelsfield unveil plans for $300 million renovation; Snøhetta to reimage lower levels of 550 Madison Avenue

November 21, 2017 - Design / Build

Manhattan, NY Olayan America and Chelsfield unveiled plans for 550 Madison Ave. in Midtown, including the selection of architecture and design firm Snøhetta to reimagine the lower levels of the office tower and update the building. Olayan America acquired the property in May 2016 for $1.4 billion as a multi-generational asset.

The $300 million renovation of 550 Madison, formerly known as the AT&T Building and then the Sony Building, will bring life back to the property. The plan modernizes the interior spaces to meet the needs of the modern office worker, and adds high-quality amenities, retail and restaurants. The proposed public space will nearly double in size to create an outdoor garden for the public’s enjoyment.

While the recognizable top of the tower will remain a fixture of the NYC skyline as it has since its completion in 1984, the new design will transform the base into an inviting street front, extending the lively activity of Madison Ave. further south to 55th St.

“We’re pleased to be working hand in hand with Chelsfield and Snøhetta to achieve a new vision for 550 Madison. Across the board, our team is committed to the long-term success of 550 Madison and the broader Midtown community,” said Tony Fusco, managing director and head of real estate at Olayan America. “The plans developed offer a vibrant enhancement of Philip Johnson’s postmodern design, and we believe the renovation will create a space that continues to draw top-tier tenants for generations to come. We look forward to restoring 550 Madison to prominence as a premier location for office and retail in Midtown, as well as an urban oasis for the public.”

“550 Madison is a remarkable building, and we’re thrilled to work with our partners at Olayan America and Snøhetta to revitalize the property,” said David Laurie, Managing Director at Chelsfield America. “At 550 Madison, we have planned a building that puts employees first, from top of the line amenities, market-leading technology, better air quality, inspiring views of Central Park, to a deeply relaxing and serene public urban garden right next door. When our team is through, 550 Madison will be the office building that employees across New York and beyond are nudging their bosses to move in to.”

Snøhetta’s design will breathe new life into the building’s public, retail and office spaces for the contemporary needs of one of the world’s most recognized avenues.

Highlights of Snøhetta’s design include:

• A proposal to nearly double the size of the nearby public space, allowing the area to breathe with more access to open air and daylight

• Creating an outdoor garden (the largest in a 5-minute walking radius) for public enjoyment

• Stitching the life of the building back into the street, including new food offerings and retail

• Partially replacing the building’s eye-level façade with an undulating glass curtainwall, to both highlight the multi-story arched entry and reveal the energy of the building’s existing steel structure

“The re-imagined 550 Madison reflects how we work and live in New York today,” said Craig Dykers, founding partner and architect at Snøhetta. “The design sensitively transforms a sculpturally monumental building and improves the experience of the building where it meets the street. By updating this inward-looking tower for contemporary society, the redesign will foster a more vibrant, dynamic relationship between the building, the city, and the people who inhabit it. It’s been exciting to work on this project with the teams at Chelsfield and Olayan, and build on our growing portfolio of impactful projects in New York.”

Completed in 1984, 550 Madison was originally designed by Philip Johnson for single-tenant occupancy, serving as the eponymous world headquarters for its corporate owners. Since the departure of the Sony Corporation over a year-and-a-half ago, its office floors have sat vacant. 

Snøhetta’s design approach connects the life of the building with the life of the street. Since 550 Madison was first completed, its fortress-like base created an uninviting street front, which was then further compromised by a series of ground-floor renovations that effectively visually closed the building off from its surroundings.

With the updated design, the stone façade will be partially replaced at eye level by an undulating glass curtainwall. From the street, the reconceived façade dramatically highlights the multi-story arched entry, while revealing the craftsmanship of the building’s existing steel structure. Scalloped glass references the sculpted forms of fluted stone columns, creating a lively and identifiable public face for passersby.  With this increased transparency, the activity within the lobby, atrium, and first 2 levels of the building will become part of the vibrant energy of the street. 

As part of the renovation, 550 Madison’s proposed public space will be nearly doubled in size and converted to an outdoor garden, providing a verdant landscape with water features and trees as a respite from the dense urban fabric of Manhattan. The existing mid-block passageway at the rear of the tower connecting 55th and 56th Street will be transformed into a serene public space. The design will allow access to open air and daylight.

The garden is designed to encourage a variety of human experiences: to meet over lunch and socialize, to find a moment of peace, or just to take a stroll through nature. With more than 10 times the amount of planted area as the previous public space, the garden will provide a flourishing urban ecosystem. A sensitively curated planting palette will celebrate the dynamic seasonality of the Northeastern climate, transformed over the course of the year by colorful flowering trees and bulbs in spring, warm autumnal colors, and the stark elegance of evergreens in winter. These plantings will allow smaller species of birds and butterflies to flourish in their new environment, a unique urban habitat.

The renewed 550 Madison aspires to be a leader for commercial tower renovations in the future, targeting LEED Gold for sustainability, WELL-certification for healthy materials and well-being, and Wired-certification for digital infrastructure.  It will employ a Dedicated Outdoor Air Ventilation System (DOAS), ensuring tenants have access to a continuous supply of clean fresh air, while consuming less energy than typical VAV mechanical ventilation systems.

In leading the transformation of East Midtown for the rapid changes of the contemporary workforce, 550 Madison will ensure the area remains a thriving, world-class business district.  

The renovated 550 Madison will be ready to hand over to tenants in 2019. Lead brokers for the project are Mary Ann Tighe, CEO, New York Tri-State Region, CBRE; Howard Fiddle, vice chairman, CBRE; and Scott Gottlieb, vice chairman, CBRE.


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