Climbable 15-Story Art Installation Coming to New York City

A rendering of “Vessel” (Credit: Visual House-Nelson Byrd Woltz)

The long-awaited design of a public art installation for the Hudson Yards mixed-use development in New York City was unveiled Wednesday. The piece is a 15-story climbing structure called “Vessel.” According to The New York Times, the work anchoring a 5-acre public plaza will be constructed of bronzed-steel and concrete, weigh 600 tons, and feature 2,500 stairs and 80 viewing landings. The open-topped structure is meant to serve as a sort of exclamation point for the northern end of the High Line.

“Vessel” was designed by British designer Thomas Heatherwick, and is currently under construction in Monfalcone, Italy. It will be assembled on site in Manhattan next year ahead of the space’s 2018 opening.

Heatherwick says the jungle-gym-type design was inspired by Indian stepwells — ponds reached by descending a set of steps — and a Busby Berkeley musical “with a lot of steps.” By taking visitors significantly above ground level, Heatherwick says the structure will allow people to see the city and the world with a new perspective.

“We had to think of what could act as the role of a landmarker,” he told the Times. “Something that could help give character and particularity to the space.”

While there will be an elevator for anyone unable to climb up the structure’s 154 interconnected staircases to the top, Heatherwick says the design reflects New Yorkers’ interest in fitness.

Private developer Related Companies will pay more than $150 million for the installation, twice the original cost estimate. Along with Oxford Properties Group, the company is building 20 million square feet of office and retail space, housing, a cultural institution called the Shed and more amid a larger area (also called Hudson Yards) west of Penn Station that the city, state and MTA have been redeveloping.

A rendering of the interior of “Vessel” (Credit: Visual House-Nelson Byrd Woltz)

”Vessel” is only 50 feet in diameter at the ground level, and then raises to 150 feet at the top, so it won’t dominate the whole plaza. Renderings also show a garden and water feature.

The founder and chairman of Related Companies, Stephen M. Ross, commissioned and approved “Vessel.” He considered some less costly designs, but didn’t find them exciting or unique enough, until he saw Heatherwick’s design in 2013.

“I looked at it and said, ‘That’s it.’ It had everything I wanted. It’s iconic,” Ross says. “Everybody here thought I was nuts.”

Other high-profile projects by Heatherwick include the torch at the 2012 London Olympics, Google’s new campus in Mountain View, California, and Pier 55 — a Hudson River island park that has been stalled by a legal challenge.

Ross hopes “Vessel” becomes an iconic NYC fixture. “I’m doing this project because it’s free, and for all New Yorkers,” he told the Times. “I’m just itching to see a thousand people on it.”

Kelsey E. Thomas is Next City’s associate editor.

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Tags: new york cityurban designarts and culturepublic space