The “Vessel” In Manhattan


The extraordinary centrepiece of Hudson Yards is its spiral staircase, a soaring new landmark meant to be climbed. This interactive artwork was imagined by Thomas Heatherwick and Heatherwick Studio as a focal point where people can enjoy new perspectives of the city and one another from different heights, angles and vantage points.

Comprised of 154 intricately interconnecting flights of stairs - almost 2,500 individual steps and 80 landings – the nearly one mile of vertical climb offers remarkable views of the city, the river and beyond.

In 2016, Heatherwick’s design for the ‘Vessel’ structure at Hudson Yards’ Public Plaza in New York City was unveiled. The structure is in the form of a network of interlocking staircases that visitors can climb up, and its design was inspired by the ancient step wells of India. It has 2,500 steps in 154 flights of stairs, which is equivalent to 15 storeys, and it has 80 viewing landings. Construction began in April 2017, and it opened on 15 March 2019.



‘Vessel’ is a 16-story, 150-foot-high (46 m) structure of connected staircases between the buildings of Hudson Yards, located in the 5-acre (2.0 ha) Hudson Yards Public Square. Designed by Thomas Heatherwick, it has 154 flights, 2,500 steps, and 80 landings that stretch from its 50-foot-wide (15 m) base to its 150-foot-wide (46 m) apex (making it as tall as it is wide at its apex), with the total length of the stairs exceeding 1 mile (1.6 km). The structure also has ramps and an elevator to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The structure has also been designed keeping in mind the accessibility needs of persons with disabilities, who can get to the top with the help of an inclined glass elevator. Stephen Ross, the CEO of Hudson Yards’ developer Related Companies, said that its unusual shape was intended to make the structure stand out like a “12-month Christmas tree.” The copper-clad steps, arranged like a jungle gym and modelled after Indian step wells, can hold 1,000 people at a time. Heatherwick said that he intends visitors to climb and explore the structure as if it were a jungle gym. At the top of the structure, visitors can see the Hudson River. Apart from being a public artwork, Vessel could also double up as a workout platform as the monument can be climbed, free of cost, by both, young and old, alike.


Comprised of 154 interconnecting flights of stairs
 - the nearly one mile of vertical climb offers remarkable views of the city,
the river, and beyond


 ‘Vessel’ was designed along with the Hudson Yards Public Square, designed by Thomas Woltz from Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects. The attached 5-acre (2 ha) public square has 28,000 plants and 225 trees, located on the platform upon which Hudson Yards is built. The plaza’s southern side is to have a canopy of trees. The southeast entrance is to contain a fountain as well. A “’seasonally expressive’ entry garden” is meant for the 34th Street–Hudson Yards station’s subway entrance at 33rd Street.

Although it had originally been slated to cost $75 million, the projections were later revised to between $150 and $200 million. Heatherwick attributed the greatly increased price tag to the complexity of building the steel pieces. The pieces of ‘Vessel’ are being assembled in the commune of Monfalcone in Italy. Ships transport the sections of the sculpture to Hudson River docks.

“There will be ample ways in which visitors will have the opportunities to come together. One hundred and fifty-four ways, to be exact. Along with 80 landings, that’s the number of staircases that will complete the Vessel’s interior. Which is all to say, the Vessel will serve as nothing more (or less) than a place to walk up and down. To stand and contemplate. Or meet with friends and family before leaving to explore the city. And that’s exactly what all parties involved in its creation want it to be. Its ambiguity is its greatest strength. “Over time its use will evolve in ways we can’t even imagine right now,” says Wood. “In this way we’re giving the structure to the city and allowing them to define it.”

Related (the developers of Hudson Yards) and Heatherwick Studios want the Vessel to be a gathering place for tourists, yes, but more important, New Yorkers. “I want people who live here to use this space and feel a part of it,” developer Stephen Ross (a man many credit with making mixed-use buildings commonplace on the city’s skyline) said one recent morning as he walked up the Vessel for the first time. Ross hopes that locals will one day soon say, “Let’s meet at the Vessel” and not “Let’s avoid the Vessel,” as many New Yorkers do of Times Square. Moving past the fact that Heatherwick designed the structure, there is a tangible connection that can be made between the Vessel and Thomas Heatherwick as a person. His firm, Heatherwick Studio, houses 200 architects to design buildings around the globe (among their more notable projects are Learning Hub in Singapore; a complex for Bombay Sapphire in Hampshire, England; and the Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town). Thomas Heatherwick, however, isn’t an architect. He’s a designer. Such can be said about the design he’s just completed. It’s a massive steel structure in Manhattan that houses no residents or office space. But many wonder if the city needs it. It’s a fact that major government subsidies were granted for Hudson Yards to be realized (researchers at the New School in New York concluded that the city will spend $5.6 billion of taxpayers’ money on the project)”

Nick Mafi for Architectural Digest

It was planned that it would be the structure’s temporary name during construction, and that a permanent name would be determined later. After itopened, Hudson Yards asked the public to give it a formal name, creating a website devoted to that effect.



In an interview with Fortune magazine, Ross said that he “wanted to commission something transformational, monumental,” which led to the concept for ‘Vessel’. Ross was looking to five unnamed artists who were renowned for designing similar plazas, and then asked them for in-depth proposals. He rejected all of the plans, at which point a colleague introduced Ross to Heatherwick. Six weeks after they talked, Ross accepted Heatherwick’s proposal immediately because it “had everything I wanted.” In an interview with Designboom, Heatherwick said that his design for ‘Vessel’ originated from a childhood experience when he “fell in love with an old discarded flight of wooden stairs outside a local building site.”



The concept of ‘Vessel’ was unveiled to the public on September 14, 2016, in an event attended by hundreds of people including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Hosted by Anderson Cooper, the event featured a performance from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater that evoked the interlocking design of the staircases.

In April 2017, the first major piece of the sculpture was installed at Hudson Yards. Construction started on April 18 with the installation of the first 10 pieces of the 75-piece structure. It was projected for completion in the spring of 2019, with the other 65 pieces arriving in five batches. The structure topped out in December 2017. In October 2018, it was announced that the opening of Vessel had been scheduled for March 15, 2019, and that tickets to enter the structure would become available in February. By January 2019, Hudson Yards officials were soliciting public suggestions for a rename of Vessel. Though the structure had no official name, the Hudson Yards website called it the “Hudson Yards Staircase”.

 ‘Vessel’ opened as scheduled on March 15, 2019.

 Fortune called it “Manhattan’s answer to the Eiffel Tower”, a sentiment echoed by CNN. Elle Decor compared ‘Vessel’ to an M. C. Escher drawing. The New York Times stated that the sculpture, while a “stairway to nowhere” in the utilitarian sense, served as an “exclamation point” to the northern terminus of the High Line Park. Gothamist called it a “a bold addition to the city’s landscape.” Speaking about the structure’s design process, Heatherwick stated, “We had to think of what could act as the role of a landmarker. Something that could help give character and particularity to the space.”

Public Art Fund president Susan Freedman liked the renderings for ‘Vessel’ but called it “a leap of faith in terms of scale.” She stated that there might be too much demand for it, especially considering the structure’s proximity to the High Line. Manufactured in Monfalcone, Italy, the copper-colour cladded steel structure, which exudes an Iron Man vibe, is part of the 14-acre public square and gardens designed by landscape architect Thomas Woltz of the firm Nelson Byrd Woltz, in collaboration with Heatherwick. The public square is part of the larger 28-acre Hudson Yards site which comprises a mix of office space, retail outlets, and residences, dining projects, a public school and a cultural institution on wheels called The Shed.





Sudeshna Mukherjee  
Assistant Editor
Civil Engineering and Construction Review