Just as we have been seeing “starchitect” designed buildings by international architects choose a performative gesture in urban landscapes, the same trend is being repeated in public space. I have already written about New York City’s “The Vessel” which is the first public art installation at Hudson Yards, the old working dock and shipbuilding site on the west side of Manhattan.
By square foot, Hudson Yards is the largest private real estate development in the United States, with 16 planned buildings. The total cost of this megaproject is $25 billion, and the $200 million dollar Vessel is a privately commissioned public art project. It is fifteen stories high, has 154 interconnected staircases, and it is supposed to be used by the public for climbing and running. There’s 2,500 stairs and eighty landings.
You have to pay to climb The Vessel, but it is free for the first hour each day. There is also an elevator for the mobility challenged that goes to the top deck.
The Vessel which was conceived by the Heatherwick Studio has one major flaw which, as reported by Ashley Wong and Michael Gold in the New York Times, has angered community members. There have been four suicides from the structure, and the developers have been repeatedly asked to build higher barriers which currently are only waist high. The structure is closed pending an overall design and suicide prevention review.
As Ms. Wong and Mr. Gold note, studies show that fencing and barriers do stop and reduce suicide attempts as was demonstrated in the installation of an 11 foot high fence (3.3 meters) on New York City’s George Washington Bridge. At The Vessel, developers started to charge ten dollars a ticket with each reservation, and insist that people travel in pairs or groups. Signage has also been added to discourage suicide attempts.
Community members want to see the raising of glass barriers in The Vessel to seven or eight feet, and also have netting considered along the structure. As community chair Lowell Kern stated “Yes technically it is a work of architecture, and I’m messing with the architect’s vision. But we are dealing with life-and-death issues. Art and architecture have to take a back seat”.
In response, the developer is considering permanently closing the structure to the public. The YouTube video below details a visit to The Vessel and shows the views and the intricate design detail in the structure.