Say hello to Vessel. The massive sculpture—excuse us, "public landmark"—is the much-anticipated centerpiece of the new public square at Hudson Yards, the design for which was unveiled at a press conference this morning on the site of the megaproject. "This will be one of the great public squares of New York City," Mayor Bill de Blasio said at the event, calling the sculpture a "must-see and a must-walk for all New Yorkers."
The Vessel (a temporary name, with a permanent one TK) is the creation of British designer Thomas Heatherwick, who won the bid for the sculpture in 2013. It will sit at the center of a five-acre public park, with a design by Nelseon Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, and is intended, per Heatherwick, to "lift people up to be more visible and enjoy new views and perspectives of each other."
And when Heatherwick says "lift people up," he means it literally. The unusual piece—the shape of which may evoke a beehive, or a ribcage, or perhaps a doner kebab, depending on your perspective—will feature 154 interconnected staircases that altogether will create of mile’s worth of climbable pathways.
Rather than being a static public installation that can be enjoyed only at a remove, Vessel is intended to be an interactive, participatory part of the urban landscape. That point was underscored during today’s press conference, which took place in front of a staircase similar to those that will be part of the finished product; dancers from Alvin Ailey performed a piece that utilized the stairs, though probably in a more energetic way than most New Yorkers will use them.
During the press conference, Anderson Cooper (who noted that he’ll soon be working out of the megaproject when CNN moves into 30 Hudson Yards) interviewed Heatherwick, Related head honcho Stephen Ross, and landscape architect Thomas Woltz. "New York has revolutionized our thinking about public space in the last decade," Heatherwick explained, using the High Line as an example. He noted that he felt "enormous pressure" to create something that would match the megaproject’s skyscrapers in architectural noteworthiness, but without adding more height to the public square. (Mission accomplished.)
Heatherwick also explained his inspiration for the piece, which comes both from his days at art school in London (when he found a discarded staircase and dragged it back to school with him) and from the design of Indian stepwells. The piece is currently being fabricated in Italy, and will later be shipped to New York and assembled on-site.
The surrounding public plaza, meanwhile, will be home to nearly 30,000 native plants, a move that was very much intentional, according to Woltz. The plaza will also have a new entrance to the High Line, along with a 200-foot fountain, a garden with seasonal blooms, and plenty of seating.
"We know Vessel will be debated and discussed and looked at from every angle," Mayor de Blasio said at the presser, noting that New Yorkers "are enthusiastic, [but] we are opinionated." And there’s no doubt that this design will prove fairly controversial and inspire a lot of chatter (get at it in the comments!), particularly given its place of prominence within one of the city’s most highly anticipated new developments.
But Ross, the Related chairman, hopes that it will eventually become as iconic as landmarks like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree—though we’ll have to wait a couple of years to see how, exactly, New Yorkers will respond to it. It has an anticipated opening date of 2018.