555TEN | Interview with Steven Tupu (Terrain NYC)

June 2017

Landscape architect Steven Tupu, a principal with Terrain NYC, is responsible for 555TEN’s green spaces, from its playful rooftop garden and dog run to the subtle Japanese maple trees that welcome residents and visitors at the building’s entrance. Tupu was inspired by what he characterizes as 555TEN’s “infrastructural landscape,” its proximity to the Hudson River, and its tall perch in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. Considering 555TEN’s context in every direction and during every season of the year, he arranged birch trees to bring shade and texture to the rooftop garden and selected a variety of grasses to give the landscaped roof distinctive areas while providing the lush and colorful texture that he grew to love in his native New Zealand.


What is it about 555TEN’s location that makes it such a compelling site for landscaping?

Looking south and west, there’s the end of the High Line and the view across the Hudson River to New Jersey. 555TEN is located at the edge of an “infrastructural landscape,” and this location provides a unique view of the urban skyline and the expanse of the Hudson River.


What might residents find surprising about 555TEN’s location?

555TEN is so ideally located for city-dwellers—right in the heart of the Theater District and close to the transportation hub of Times Square—that it’s easy to forget that it sits right next to the scenic Hudson River. The landscapes include lush terraces that add native plant habitats for local and migratory birds and pollinators. New York is part of the natural world, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.


How did you develop your special expertise in urban landscaping?

I’m a native of Wellington, New Zealand, a famously verdant country. We are also a nation of gardeners, and we are used to making the most of small spaces. These early experiences and that natural backdrop inspire my vision for the urban landscapes I design for Terrain NYC.


What features of 555TEN were most inspirational for Terrain NYC’s landscaping process?

At 555TEN, the deep setback terrace on the ninth floor and the wraparound terraces provided a unique challenge to develop a design language that could connect these spaces and different amenities with the flexibility to form smaller more intimate spaces.

Plantings of grasses and perennials are grouped in large masses and flow around the exterior columns and glass curtain wall. The colors and textures of the plantings enhance the building’s facade, starting with the Japanese maple that greets visitors at the front entrance. Having been involved early in the design process, my team and I were able to take full advantage of the tall building’s structured setbacks. That’s where the amenities suite opens onto the spectacular south-facing terrace and dog run and the more intimate yoga terrace along the northern edge.


Does the landscaping shape the experience of 555TEN for pets, too?

Yes! At the southwest edge of the amenity terrace is a dog run and viewing area that includes built-in timber bleacher seating for owners to socialize on and playful timber topographic mounds that define running circuits for the dogs to explore.


Is color and shape part of the landscape design process for 555TEN as well?

Very much so. For New York City’s multiseason climate, we selected four-season birch trees that are green in the spring, white and serene in fall and winter, and able to provide light shade from the sun in the summer. With 555TEN’s architectural palette including matte bronze and stainless steel, the green variety of Japanese maple was also a natural fit. We also chose tall native grasses for the terrace landscaping. They are dynamic in the breeze and provide a soft edge, helping to define the various spaces.


How does 555TEN become part of the natural world, thanks to Terrain NYC’s landscaping?

Native shrubs, grasses, and perennials serve another function in providing much-needed habitats for birds and pollinators. As with the High Line, 555TEN’s terraces are green oases for people, pets, and even wildlife, and we designed them as integrated pockets of nature and social spaces at the bustling crossroads of Midtown Manhattan.