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In recent years, New York City has embarked on pharaonic construction projects to increase the number of offices and housing units. The heart of the battle is in northwest Manhattan, above a vast rail yard used by the New York Subway.
The project is called the Hudson Yards Development Project. To mark the occasion, a monumental work of art was built right in the heart of the first (over)built-up area, named The Vessel. Planning a visit to New York? For me, this is a place to add to your list of places to see!
Description of The Vessel
Chronology of the project
The work of art was commissioned in October 2013 from London architect Thomas Heatherwick, famous for designing the British capital’s new double-decker buses. He drew inspiration for his monumental work from a childhood memory of abandoned staircases and the honeycomb structure of beehives.
Construction of the Vessel began in 2017, and it opened on March 15, 2019. The chronology could end here, but the work has been caught up in several torments since its inauguration. Firstly, due to its staircase structure and the presence of a single elevator, it is considered difficult to access for people with reduced mobility.
Secondly, a number of people have used its height and celebrity to stage their own suicides. After three suicides, the Vessel was closed for a few months in early 2021, before being reopened. But this reopening didn’t last long: at the end of July 2021, it was closed again after the suicide of a teenager. At the time of writing, it is still not open to the public.
A permanent temporary name?
While the Vessel’s structure may be reminiscent of certain science-fiction spaceships, the name was only a “working title”, a temporary denomination for the development project. A definitive name should have been found after its opening, but it seems that the “Vessel” is destined to endure.
An inverted Eiffel Tower
The project’s most enthusiastic supporters compare it to an inverted Eiffel Tower serving as New York’s central artistic monument, as the Iron Lady is for Paris. However, at 46 metres, the structure struggles to stand out from the immense neighbouring skyscrapers that loom over it.
The work is a series of staircases and landings. It comprises some 2,500 steps and 80 landings arranged over 16 levels. A single elevator connects a small number of landings, but this is deemed insufficient to qualify it as truly accessible to people with reduced mobility.
It was built using 75 copper-clad sections, manufactured in Monfalcone, Italy, and shipped by boat. 75 is also the estimated cost in millions of US dollars before construction. But the final cost is closer to 200 million USD.
Location of the Vessel in New York
You’ll find Hudson Yards just west of Midtown Manhattan, close to Madison Square Garden and the Empire State Building. Most interestingly for soft mobility, they mark the northern end of the High Line, an enormous two-kilometre-long elevated green promenade crossing western Manhattan from north to south. So you can combine a visit to the Vessel with a long walk to the Whitney Museum of American Art at the southern end.
Visit the Vessel
Although still closed, the Vessel is certainly worth a visit. You can also take the opportunity to walk along the High Line, discover the many art galleries in the area, and admire the brand-new Hudson Yards district.
If you’re traveling by subway, Hudson Yards is located at the terminus of line 7, “34th Street, Hudson Yards Station”. This line connects directly to the famous Times Square and Grand Central Terminal.
An observation point
Originally, the Vessel was intended as an observation point in the heart of Hudson Yards. Nevertheless, surrounded by towering skyscrapers, the view isn’t particularly attractive – especially as the Vessel is currently closed!
But if you’re a thrill-seeker, you’re sure to find something to your liking in the building next door. The tower known as “30 Hudson Yards” boasts the highest open observation platform on the continent, located on the 100th floor, more than 300 meters above the ground! The platform is called “Edge”. Nevertheless, you’ll need to put your hand in the wallet, as rates start at $40 per adult (13 to 61 years) for online reservations.
The Vessel is located in a small 2-hectare urban park, containing around 28,000 plants, including 225 trees. This green space deserves a mention because, if you’ve ever visited NY, you’ll know that nature spaces here are rare apart from the magnificent Central Park. Thus laid out, it offers an attractive “terminus” for High Line users, lovers of greenery and interesting views.
The future of the Vessel and Hudson Yards
The Hudson Yards project is still in full development. The Vessel forms the backdrop to phase 1 of the project, which will open to the public in 2019, with its office towers, residential units, shopping center (around 100 stores) and The Shed. The latter is a center for the performing arts and an added attraction in the Hudson Yards, whether to admire its distinctive architecture or the shows it houses.
Phase 2, closer to the Hudson River, is scheduled for completion by 2027. It will add mainly office and residential space, as well as a school. Nevertheless, its development remains unpredictable, as other uses are envisaged, including the construction of a casino. The High Line is also set to be extended through phase 2 of Hudson Yards.
Towards a reopening of the Vessel?
No date has yet been set for the reopening of the Vessel to the public. Those in charge of the project are trying to implement solutions aimed at preventing suicides, including the installation of safety nets below the staircases. These solutions are complicated, however, as they risk distorting the work and need to be tested.
In the meantime, only the first floor of the Vessel is open to the public, free of charge. More info on the official website !