New York Is Getting a 15-Story Stairway to Heaven

Yo, tourists: If you're going to be slow, stand to the right

By Athena Wisotsky

 
New York Is Getting a 15-Story Stairway to Heaven
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15 September 2016

Thomas Heatherwick, one of London’s foremost creative eccentrics, has been chosen to design the centerpiece for Manhattan’s Hudson Yards, a massive development and rezoning project along the Hudson River. After years of secrecy, renderings of the concept were revealed Wednesday in a party-like press event attended by Mayor Bill de Blasio. (So you know it's a big deal.)

It’s nicknamed the ‘Vessel,’ but The New York Times called it “the city’s biggest Rorschach test.” Elsewhere it’s been called New York’s Eiffel Tower (someone might have forgotten that the Statue of Liberty had engineer Gustave Eiffel on staff).

Rendering: Forbes Massie - Heatherwick Studio

What it is: An Escher-esque 154 flights of interconnected stairs climbing 15 stories, totaling about one mile in walkways, with 80 landings looking over a five-acre public square.

Why it is (in the designer’s words): “In a city full of eye-catching structures, our first thought was that it shouldn’t just be something to look at. Instead we wanted to make something that everybody could use, touch, relate to. Influenced by images we had seen of indian stepwells, made from hundreds of flights of stairs going down into the ground, an idea emerged to use flights of stairs as building elements.”


Rendering: VisualHouse - Nelson Byrd Woltz

It’s weird, it’s expensive ($150 million), and it’s completely exciting! Very! Exciting!

Exciting enough to compel the use a bunch of exclamation points, a choice which I will now defend:

The iconic skyline of Manhattan, its skyscrapers dizzying and in abundance, represents something inaccessible to so many people. On the ground it can feel claustrophobic, oppressive even, and with a good many of the buildings requiring an appointment or credentials to even make it past the lobby, most of us are mere spectators to an insular society. Not to mention a lack of greenery, which hurts this Oregon girl’s heart.

Rendering: Forbes Massie - Heatherwick Studio

Some days, that isolation doesn’t feel like a bad thing. (I’m busy, you’re busy, we both have to go to work now, no I don’t want a $5 psychic reading, please let me by). But it can also feel very robotic and unnatural, particularly when you realize “hey I have millions of neighbors, yet I actively try to avoid eye contact with every single one.”


Rendering: VisualHouse - Nelson Byrd Woltz

The Vessel stands in direct opposition to the above, which is why I don’t see it as frivolous or unnecessary at all. The open-air framework seems a welcome respite from the crowded streets.  And the promise of five additional acres of greenery to gaze down at goes a long way toward repairing the damage done by watching a grown man expel a massive amount of snot this morning onto the subway floor.

It’s interactive, unusual and creative. It’s for all of us. But slow-pokes, keep it moving, please. This is still New York after all.


Rendering: Forbes Massie - Heatherwick Studio

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