St. John’s Terminal: An Ecology for Tech and Innovation

Located at 550 Washington Street in Manhattan, St. John’s Terminal has been adapted into a center for tech and innovation as a new headquarters for GOOGLE. The former terminus of the raised railway that has been repurposed as The High Line linear park has been skillfully engineered to support over 2.5 acres of open space. More than half of that open space is planted with native habitat across multiple terraces, seven stories of window boxes, planted train tracks in the building’s north façade, and a large public entry plaza. Sustainability, biophilia, and creating meaningful spaces that spark collaboration and imagination were all key to the landscape visioning and design. A journey through the landscape draws you through different moments in the site’s history, expressed through material selections, native planting drawing on regional ecologies, and landscape features.

Located on the original shoreline, the entry plaza and adjacent beautified streetscape form a new gateway to Hudson River Park. Urban design improvements include a new mid-block crosswalk connecting to the park, and a verdant shared pedestrian and vehicular connection between Washington Street and the West Side Highway. Open to the public, the entry plaza provides an immersive garden experience through lush, resilient understory plantings and groves of trees. The design draws from natural shoreline forms with planted berms and natural boulders complemented by geometric stone seats and paving regionally sourced from upstate New York. At the 2nd floor, the existing train tracks and platforms emerge from the face of the building and are planted with native trees, shrubs, and groundcover that appear as though they have spontaneously taken root there. Seven stories of window boxes on the north façade provide an ecological ladder for local birds and insects as they traverse from the plaza up to the 12th-floor terrace. The Audubon Society is monitoring the success of the wildlife sustained by the planting and witnessed 40 distinct bird species in the first season.

Collectively, the terraces provide a diverse range of work-space environments that inspire collaboration and imagination. The 4th-floor terrace, located on the roof of the existing building, takes cues from its industrial past through distinctive architectural elements, including wind-mitigation screens, pergolas, and seating nooks. The events terrace hosts theatergoers from the auditorium with a large flexible space, planted islands, fossilized limestone bar counters, and pergolas. The 11th floor is a quarter mile-long, 360-degree walking path that offers a moment of respite, with exceptional views across the water and of the Manhattan skyline. The walking path is framed by plantings inspired by the “Bloemendaal”, one of Manahatta’s original, native meadows located on present day upper west side of Manhattan. The 12th-floor terrace brings employees back to nature with rocky outcroppings and emergent alpine plants at the meditation garden and intimate seating areas nestled in the Pine grove. A large lawn with rolling topography, a bosque of oak trees and catenary lights, supports flexible use for wellness programming and happy hour events, as well as lunch hour picnicking.

Sustainable strategies are woven through every element of the project; all of the timber for the decking, furniture, and windscreens across the terraces is repurposed from the historic Coney Island boardwalk; 100 new trees have been planted on site; solar panels at the 4th and 12th floors supplement the building’s electricity; and all of the stormwater for the building is captured and released to sustain the plantings through a smart irrigation system which monitors local evapotranspiration rates and rainfall.

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