New Yorkers, it is quite evident, have a love-hate relationship with 21st century architecture. I’m sure when the first NYC skyscraper, The Tower Building, was built in 1899 at eleven stories high, there were probably local residents appalled at its height (The Tower Building, the first NYC building to have a steel skeleton, which classified it as a skyscraper, was demolished in 1913). Can you believe the Fuller Building (now called the Flatiron Building) built in 1903, was considered by many to be a “monstrosity” and “awkward” because of its daring shape? Today, it is beloved and one of the most photographed skyscrapers in the city.
The focal point for the most recent development (the largest and most expensive development in American history ) at Hudson Yards, is VESSEL, built by the ‘‘Pied Piper of Architecture,’’ British architect Thomas Heatherwick – known for his brashness and elements of surprise. Remember his 204 copper petaled Olympic Cauldron, at the 2012 London Olympics? Each petal represented one of the national teams, brought into the stadium by one of its athletes. They were set atop 204 copper pipes, which in turn were fused together.
VESSEL, his massive honeycomb, was inspired by India’s ancient stepwells (monumental wells with zigzagging staircases down their sides, allowing access to deep water). In actuality, Heatherwick turned the stepwell inside out, creating a design that is quite visceral and engaging.
Six years in the making, the $200-million VESSEL stands 150 feet high (sixteen stories), made up of 154 interconnecting flights of stairs, totalling 2,500 steps amidst 80 landings. Copper-coated steel lines the staircases. Be aware the funicular-looking elevator is available for only the handicapped (as I was told today by the operator) and there is no available seating. Currently, you must reserve a free ticket at a specific time to ascend, but feel free to navigate soaking in the panoramic vistas for as long as you fancy!
After weeks of waiting with bated breath, I climbed VESSEL today, having followed its construction since it started in April 2017 – it topped out in December 2017 and opened on 15th March 2019. I was there exactly at its opening at noon, quite fascinated with the images through my camera lens, somewhat different than observing with the naked eye. Having a fear of heights, I very tentatively leaned over to capture shots looking straight down at the bright blue light on the ground floor. As I tend to approach most adventures through child-like eyes, it was quite an epic day for this admirer of architecture! Looking forward to returning at day’s end to witness our epic sunsets over New Jersey.
Fascinated by Thomas Heatherwick Studio designs? Then follow his current commissions underway – Google HQ’s in Mountain View, California and London (working with Bjarke Ingels Studio on these), and Pier 55 Floating Park in New York City.