My Experience at New York City's Iconic Vessel: Ascending the Hive in Hudson Yards
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A relatively new addition to New York City is The Vessel at Hudson Yards. Hudson Yards is a large-scale redevelopment project in Manhattan, transforming a former rail yard into a modern neighborhood with high-rise residential buildings, office towers, a public plaza, and retail spaces, including landmarks like The Vessel and The Edge Observation Deck. I had a chance to visit the Vessel shortly after it opened.
The Vessel has informally been nicknamed "the Shawarma" by some people, due to its resemblance to the vertically rotating spit of meat commonly used in preparing the Middle Eastern dish, shawarma. This nickname is one of several informal monikers that the structure has garnered since its unveiling, reflecting the public's diverse interpretations and reactions to its unique, spiral design.
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“Whether you're a first-time visitor or a seasoned New Yorker, The Vessel at Hudson Yards is a sight to see.”
What is The Vessel?
The Vessel is a striking climbable sculpture located in the heart of Hudson Yards, a relatively new neighborhood on the West Side of Manhattan. Designed by British architect Thomas Heatherwick, The Vessel opened to the public in March 2019. Resembling a honeycomb or a giant beehive, this 16-story structure consists of 154 interconnecting flights of stairs, 2,500 individual steps, and 80 landings for visitors to explore. The intricate lattice of bronzed steel and concrete forms a unique visual spectacle.
The Experience from the Outside
Currently, The Vessel is closed to the public. This decision was made following a series of tragic incidents that raised concerns about the safety of the structure. As a result, visitors can only admire it from the plaza outside the structure. Despite this restriction, the sculpture is still a magnificent sight. Its reflective bronzed surface and geometric design make it a photographer’s delight, especially during sunset when the colors of the sky dance on its facade.
The Views from the Top
As I ascended The Vessel, the views became increasingly spectacular, reaching their peak as I approached the summit. From the top, I enjoyed a panoramic vista of the Hudson Yards, the Hudson River, and the several skyscrapers emerging from this recently created neighborhood of Hudson Yards. The experience of ascending the structure was like navigating a maze, with each turn offering a new perspective of the city.
The Vessel’s History
The concept of The Vessel was born as part of the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project. Its intention was to create a landmark that would serve as an interactive piece of art and a public space. Heatherwick Studio’s design was selected for its innovative approach to urban space utilization. The Vessel's construction began in April 2017 and was completed in less than two years.
The Location and Nearby Attractions
The Vessel’s location at Hudson Yards makes it a central point for various attractions. Adjacent to it are the Shops at Hudson Yards, a high-end shopping mall with a range of retail, dining, and entertainment options. Another notable nearby attraction is the Edge Observation Deck, known for its breathtaking views of the New York skyline and the river. Additionally, the northernmost point of the High Line, an elevated linear park built on a historic freight rail line, is also located near the sculpture. This proximity offers visitors a chance to enjoy a walk along the High Line before or after visiting The Vessel.
When The Vessel first opened, visitors who obtained free tickets to enter the structure were subject to a clause that raised significant concerns regarding photography rights. The terms stated that by obtaining a ticket to The Vessel, visitors automatically agreed to give the Hudson Yards developers the right to use any photographs, audio recordings, or video footage captured at The Vessel for commercial purposes. This meant that any picture a visitor took could potentially be used by Hudson Yards for promotional or commercial purposes without compensating or even notifying the photographer.
This policy sparked a public outcry, particularly among photographers and privacy advocates. Critics argued that this policy was overly broad and invasive, essentially co-opting visitors' personal experiences and memories for commercial gain. The controversy highlighted the growing concerns over intellectual property rights and privacy in public spaces, especially in an era where photography is ubiquitous due to smartphones.
In response to the backlash, the developers of Hudson Yards revised their policy. The updated terms clarified that personal, non-commercial photography was permitted without the risk of Hudson Yards repurposing the images. Commercial photographers, however, are still required to obtain prior permission. This change was welcomed by many as a fair compromise, respecting the rights of visitors to capture their experiences while protecting the commercial interests of Hudson Yards.
Facts About The Vessel
1. Architectural Significance: The Vessel is considered a remarkable example of 21st-century architecture. Its design challenges traditional architectural forms, combining both aesthetic appeal and functional space. Its interlocking staircases create a unique pattern, making it not just a structure but a piece of interactive artwork.
2. Material and Construction: The exterior of The Vessel is clad in a polished copper-colored steel that reflects the changing light of the day. This material choice gives it a distinctive look, setting it apart from the surrounding glass and steel skyscrapers of Hudson Yards. The intricate structure required precision in engineering and construction.
3. Public Reception and Criticism: Since its opening, The Vessel has received mixed reviews. While it's admired for its innovative design and as a public space that encourages exploration, it has also faced criticism. Some have pointed out its lack of accessibility (as the primary mode of exploration is through stairs) and its functionality as a public space.
4. Cultural Impact: The Vessel quickly became a cultural icon in New York City, appearing in numerous photographs, social media posts, and even in film and television. Its unique design has made it a popular backdrop and a symbol of modern New York.
5. Safety Measures and Future: After the closure due to safety concerns, there have been discussions about the future of The Vessel. Proposals include potential design alterations to enhance safety or the implementation of new measures to prevent future incidents. The final decision on its reopening or redesign is still pending.
6. Accessibility: Before its closure, The Vessel was known for its limited accessibility. While it featured an elevator, it only serviced a few of the structure's levels, making full exploration a challenge for those with mobility issues.
7. Environmental Considerations: In the broader context of the Hudson Yards development, The Vessel represents a shift towards more pedestrian-focused urban spaces in New York City. However, environmentalists have raised concerns about the overall sustainability of the Hudson Yards project.
8. Symbolism: The Vessel has been interpreted in various ways. Some see it as a symbol of New York’s resilience and continuous reinvention, while others view it as representative of the city’s focus on high-profile, high-cost real estate developments.
The Vessel stands as a complex and multifaceted addition to New York City's architectural landscape, embodying both the challenges and triumphs of modern urban development. Whether you're a first-time visitor or a seasoned New Yorker, The Vessel at Hudson Yards is a sight to see.
While it’s unfortunate that at the time of this writing visitors can no longer climb The Vessel, its presence continues to be a significant draw for locals and tourists alike. Its innovative design and the views it offered will remain etched in the memory of those who experienced it. As we wait for the future of The Vessel to be determined, it remains a prime example of New York City’s ever-evolving landscape.
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