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biophilic travels: a verdant area in the heart of the city

in biophilic travels

Finding peace in the heart of the city is no easy task and the same is true for nature.

In this episode of Biophilic Travels, we’re touring an urban public space that – embracing a biophilic design approach – brings both peace and nature into the city…

a new destination

550 Madison Avenue Garden transforms the existing corridor between two buildings into a pocket park. Breathing life into a previously overlooked space, the project creates a new destination, a restorative area in the middle of the city. The lobby of the adjacent 550 Madison building has also been redesigned opening the view to the newly planted space from within the building as well as from the street.

The park includes lush vegetation, amenities and several seating options. Plants are located at varying heights, giving a hilly, more nature-like feel to the landscape. Importantly, the project includes a rainwater retention system that takes care of the garden’s irrigation without further water usage. A waterfall wall is also part of the design, enriching the experience with the sound, freshness, and sensory richness of water.
The food and beverage offer is worth mentioning. Preference is given to fresh produce, healthy nutritional profiles and sustainable sourcing; an interesting way to engage the sense of taste, as the experience of this space will likely include a culinary element as well.

Overall, the area is organized into thematic outdoor rooms: the waterfall room, the woodland room… This gives an explorative side to the experience, inviting visitors to walk through the meandering path to discover the next room. Open and secluded areas alternate, providing options to enjoy the space whether visitors are there to gather or for a quiet peaceful moment.

View of the new biophilic pocket park.
Credit: Snøhetta – Ph: Barret Doherty
Front view of the water wall.
Credit: Snøhetta — Visualization: MOARE
Helicopter view of the area.
Credit: Snøhetta — Visualization: MOARE

welcoming life through seasons

A public space only makes sense if it can actually be used. This project takes usability into account, making sure the area can be enjoyed through the seasons and in different weather conditions.

A clear glass canopy shields part of the area, turning the park into an outside-yet-covered destination during rainy and snowy days. For winter, the space also includes an interesting warming option: a steam pit that blows out heated vapour. Topped with organic rocks and surrounded by a circular bench, the pit makes being outside more comfortable even when temperatures are low.

Front view of the park from the street.
Credit: Snøhetta — Visualization: MOARE
Helicopter view of the steam pit.
Credit: Snøhetta – Ph: Barret Doherty

enhancing local identity

This project has a particularly strong value in terms of local identity. 550 Madison is a landmark of the city and any redesign requires its history to be respected and maintained.

The new garden area does so beautifully, making the space more usable and more pleasant to be in while keeping it recognizable. This strengthens the sense of place, bringing more life into a defining landmark of the city. From a formal perspective, the round shapes that repeat throughout the design are also meant to recall identity, echoing the building’s architectural signature: the “Chippendale” roof line that made it stand out since its inception.

View highlighting the distinctive round elements.
Credit: Snøhetta – Ph: Barret Doherty

designing for nature

Biophilic design is not just designing for people; it’s designing for nature as well.

In this park, the choice of native plants gives local nature more space and creates a habitat for birds, butterflies, and pollinators. From a visitor’s perspective, this adds life, movement and makes for a richer exposure to nature. Equally relevant, seasonal planting introduces a precious element of change throughout the seasons.

Exterior lighting is chosen with particular care to reduce light pollution and disturbance to other living beings, thus accounting for nature’s needs as well.

View of the park area at night.
Credit: Snøhetta — Visualization: MOARE

Quality public space is an important element of a biophilic city and a building block of community. This project is a great example of how high-quality public space can be created within an existing urban environment, with moderate square footage available, strengthening local history, and crafting a space where people and nature can thrive together.

Design: Snøhetta
Photography: Barret Doherty

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