Stairway to Nowhere

Department of Justice and Related reach agreement to make the Vessel more accessible

The Thomas Heatherwick-designed Vessel, which opened earlier this year, comprises mostly stairwells and renders the vast majority of the structure inaccessible to those with disabilities. (Michael Moran/Related)

Manhattan’s U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman and the Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband announced today that they have reached an agreement with Related Companies to help make the notorious Vessel at Hudson Yards more accessible. The $150-million-project will be getting a “one-of-a-kind platform lift mechanism” on the upper levels so that people with disabilities can reach the top level and take in the views of Manhattan’s west side and beyond. Currently, the upper levels of the Vessel—a series of interlocking stairways with over 2,400 individual risers—can not be accessed without taking the steps, violating ADA rules. Although the structure has a lift (the curvy “Liberty Elevator”), it’s failed to satisfy regulators.

As a release from the Department of Justice notes, Related described the Thomas Heatherwick-designed structure as “a ‘public landmark’ that ‘will lift the public up, offering a multitude of ways to engage with and experience New York, Hudson Yards and each other.'” However this public seemingly does not include those with mobility concerns: Only three of the Vessel’s 80 landings are accessible by elevator, which at times only goes to one of those platforms in order to manage traffic. The new agreement also requires that the current elevator stop at any level it can, if requested.

There is no word yet on what precise technology will be used or how much of a cost it will add to Related’s multibillion-dollar project, which is already no stranger to controversy for its tax breaks and other publicly-funded incentives, private hospital, proported art washing, labor practices, allegedly shoddy construction, exclusivity, and mega-mall-like atmosphere.

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