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FIRST LOOK

Step up: Heatherwick Studio completes Vessel in New York

  • 5 Comments

The 45.7m-high Escher-esque structure stands at the centre of the new Hudson Yards development

Designed so as not to be overwhelmed by the surrounding architecture, Vessel – described by Heatherwick Studio as both ’centrepiece and meeting place’ – is 16 storeys high with 154 interconnecting flights of stairs, 80 landings and 2,465 steps. It is the central feature of the main public square in Hudson Yards, which is being built on a former railyard on Manhattan’s West Side.

Photo vessel interior 3 courtesy of getty images

Photo vessel interior 3 courtesy of getty images

Source: Getty Images

The design was inspired in part by public spaces such as the Spanish Steps in Rome and structures such as traditional Indian stepwells, with the three-dimensional lattice of its structure offering more than a mile of routes.

The 75 huge steel components of the structure were produced in Venice by specialist fabricator Cimolai, before being transported and assembled on site. The raw welded steel of this structure is left exposed, while the underside of the staircases is clad in a copper-toned PVD stainless steel. 

Vessel is intended to be a structure ’that encourages activity and participation’ according to the practice – while clearly offering prime Instragram opportunities too. The structure is free to climb, but visitors need to book ahead for timed access. 

Photo vessel exterior courtesy of michael moran for related oxford

Photo vessel exterior courtesy of michael moran for related oxford

Source: Michael Moran

Architects view

What was exciting about this project was that the brief was non-prescriptive about typology or outcome. There was just the key requirement to create a centre-point. Rather than making a passive object, we felt it was essential to make a social heart to galvanise the space and gather people – to bring a visible human scale to the centre of Hudson Yards.

We looked at examples of public space such as Piazza del Campo in Siena, the Spanish Steps in Rome but also at the social space created by stepwells in Rajasthan in India – which have a ceremonial and meditative aspect. All these inputs led to us thinking about three-dimensional public space. Unlike a conventional building, the footprint is smaller at its base and wider at the top – accordingly, there is more space to explore the higher up you go.

Entirely made up of stairs and landings, each junction provides multiple possible routes that lead to spaces with a unique orientation and view. No two routes are the same, and the project truly comes to life when people are moving around it.

The painted structural steel form makes reference to the bridges of Manhattan. The joints and bolted connections show the fabricated nature like a giant Meccano kit. There is a contrast in the materials from when you are looking up and when you are on the structure looking down. From below, the soffits of the structure are clad in warm copper-coloured PVD stainless steel, which offer a reflection of the space and the people around you. When on the project, the landings and surfaces of the stairs are made from an urban palette of concrete pavers – evoking the feeling of lifted sidewalks.

The core purpose of Vessel is to facilitate the human activity of socialisation. We’re hugely excited in the open-ended potential of how it could be used and experienced. Whether that be performance, dance, exercise, even as an auditorium for watching an event in the space below. Our hope is that New Yorkers and visitors embrace the project and make it their own.

Stuart Wood, partner and group leader, Heatherwick Studio

8 exploded axo

8 exploded axo

Project data 

Start on site 2015
Completion March 2019
Gross floor area 2,210m²
Procurement route Commission
Construction cost Undisclosed
Architect Heatherwick Studio
Architect of record KPF Associates 
Client Related, Oxford Properties Group 
Design engineer AKTII 
Structural engineer Thornton Tomasetti 
QS Related, Oxford Properties Group 
Landscape consultant Nelson Byrd Woltz 
Project manager Tisham 
Steel contractor Cimolai 
Lift technologies Cimolai Technologies 
Cladding contractor Permasteelia 
Crowd analysis Arup 
Lighting designer L’Observateur 
CAD software used Rhino, Revit

  • 5 Comments

Readers' comments (5)

  • It's stunning. Extraordinary. So why I am so uncomfortable with it? It isn't about the garden bridge, it isn't jealousy, it's something else that I can't quite articulate. Maybe it's to do with the absolute whimsicalness of it...the vast expense, the lack of need? But yet again perhaps it's progressing art and cityscape to a new level, perhaps its a masterpiece of our time... no, its a masterpiece of a different time - that its, that's what's so uncomfortable about it for me - it is the epitome of extravagance, a sort of diamond encrusted fir coat on seat of a gold Bentley parked outside the Ritz, whilst the Thames burst its banks, houses fall into the sea, crops fail and forests burn. It represents an old type of power, a sort of them and us - hey you, yes you homeless guy - look at this! £200,000,000 on a staircase that you can look at - what a gift to the city, aren't we great! No, that's not our job as citizens, as architects, that's why I'm uncomfortable - its solves nothing. Expensive piece of sculpture in the town square, yeah, architecture, no.

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  • Looks like a pretty lousy day out for people with reduced mobility or wheelchair users.

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  • The restrictive conditions that are placed on its use (including that you aren't allowed to sit down) make it a pretty unwelcoming piece of public realm. You can take your Instagram photo (which the Hudson Yards company will then own), but you can't sit dwell and only have a timed slot to view. This makes it even more unwelcoming than it would already be for anyone who struggles with steps. It's the worst type of toy for tourists.

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  • The latest in Heatherwick's line of curiosity pieces for large city developers, following on from Paddington Basin and the King's Cross railway lands - and reaching new heights of bling-wrapped banality.
    This is one of those productions that seem to occupy a parallel planet, where concerns for sustainability and reducing carbon footprints just don't exist.
    Fabricating the heavy structural steelwork in Italy and then shipping it to Manhattan is sending a clear message that if you're wealthy enough the rest of the world can go hang - and might even make the Guinness book of records for sheer over-the-top pointlessness.
    MC Escher's drawings are in no danger of being overshadowed by this crass bit of work - and, for the record, the Hudson rail yards are very much alive and well, underneath the mother of all air-rights decks that's now sheltering the Long Island Railroad's fleet of commuter trains.
    Back in London we might one day see a similar but much smaller and hopefully community focused development of TfL's Bakerloo line rail yard on London Road at Lambeth Road (where they've been talking of a high-rise development)

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  • Only one word for it - Tragic. Give the boy a CBE, oh he's already got one. Does this 'Stairway to Oblivion' deserve an obligatory knighthood. What next? A skycraper that self-combusts or an invisible bridge? I think we may have already done those.

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