Posts tagged with "Thomas Heatherwick":

Construction at Heatherwick’s Pier 55 is back on

After a year of feuds, cancellations, and dramatic revivals, the Thomas Heathwick-designed Pier 55 is making real progress. Pier 55, a 2.75-acre park “floating” in the Hudson River off of West 13th Street in Manhattan, was originally revealed by billionaire businessman Barry Diller in 2014 at a cost of $130 million. The park was to sit on a jumble of sculptural concrete pilings and included an amphitheater as well as two landscaped staging areas for performances, with the project’s costs falling solely on Diller and wife Diane von Furstenberg. As those costs rose to $250 million, and as the nonprofit Hudson River Park Trust, responsible for managing the floating park, was buffeted by lawsuits from the Douglas Durst-backed City Club of New York, Diller withdrew his support and the project looked dead in the water. That was all before some last-minute mediation between Governor Cuomo, Diller, and the City Club of New York that guaranteed ecological protections for the Hudson River and state funding for the unfinished 30 percent of Hudson River Park. With funding in place for the stretch of Hudson River Park that runs from Battery Park City to West 59th Street, it looks like construction is now back on at Pier 55. Concrete piles are being laid into the river for the walkways that will eventually lead to the park and performance space, and the southern path has already begun to receive its covering. As revealed in a recent interview with Diller by the Hollywood Reporter, the concrete pods that will hold the park up are currently being fabricated, and work at the site actually began in earnest back in March. Outside factors might still be able to throw the Pier’s construction off track yet again. Governor Cuomo has pledged $50 million in state dollars to finish the remaining stretch of Hudson River Park (no state funding is going towards Pier 55), but only if New York City matches the contribution. While the city seems game to put aside its own $50 million, the deal that revived Pier 55 could fall through if this funding pledge isn’t met; and even if it is, the Hudson River Trust pegs the total cost of finishing Hudson River Park at $619 million. If construction on Pier 55 continues apace, it should be finished sometime in the next few years.

Highlights from ACADIA’s 36th conference at MIT

From November 2 through the 4, 2017, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) convened the 36th ACADIA conference in the Fumihiko Maki–designed MIT Media Lab. For three days, nearly 350 people from over 30 countries drank untold gallons of coffee and shared their ideas through an array of research and paper presentations. Leading up to the conference itself was three days of intensive workshops hosted at Autodesk BUILD Space in Boston's Seaport District. ACADIA is a unique organization advancing the computational horizons in architecture. Founded in 1981 by pioneers in the field of design computation, including Bill Mitchell, Chuck Eastman, and Chris Yessios, ACADIA has hosted over 30 conferences across North America and has grown into a wide network of academics and professionals. Welcoming the ACADIANs was Hashim Sarkis, MIT’s dean of the School of Architecture + Planning. He highlighted three "turns" driving new practices in architecture. First, said Sarkis, was the "turn of scalar problems: how technology has smoothed shifts of scale from the nanoscale to the planetary." Second, the turn of values: the open sourcing of production to design processes that empower end-users and will radically change the role of the designer. Design should be a mode of inquiry that now works hand-in-hand with fabrication, said Sarkis. Lastly, he spoke of a turn toward contingency. The traditional view of a designer is that in order to be in control, we need to exclude non-relevant elements. As computational power continues to grow, more contingency enters the process as elements that were once excluded can be brought into the fold, opening design to more variety and possibility than before. MIT Host Committee Co-Chair’s Takahiko Nakamura and Skylar Tibbets welcomed the audience and kicked off the first of 13 paper-based sessions. The sessions ranged from BIM use to Automation, Visualization to Machine Learning. A major sponsorship from Autodesk allowed the ACADIA Board of Directors to award $10,000 in student travel scholarships to paper and project presenters. Breaking up the barrage of research presentations were carefully chosen keynotes from afar and close to home. MIT’s own Neri Oxman kicked off the first day, and the ACADIA Design achievement award was bestowed on designer Thomas Heatherwick that same night. Heatherwick was singled out for his studio's provocative work worldwide, and he shared insights into his studio’s processes. "The ACADIA Design Excellence Award is recognized internationally as one of the highest honors in the field," said Jason Kelly Johnson, outgoing president of ACADIA. "It represents recognition by colleagues worldwide of extraordinary contributions and impact on the field of architectural computing and design culture." The award was most recently given to Liz Diller and the late Zaha Hadid. The next day began with two awards for educators: The Innovator Award and Educator Award, which was followed by an education panel. The Educator Award went to Heather Roberge, the new Chair of Architecture at UCLA. Roberge walked the audience through a handful of studio curricula and projects, and spoke on the crucial difference between a model and a prototype, the different kinds of skills that students learn, the difference between handcraft vs machinecraft, and demonstrated how to use molds to visualize parametric concepts and form finding. The second day closed out with a presentation from Paris-based Iconem, an organization using advanced photogrammetric techniques for heritage preservation in conflict zones. Wrapping up the conference’s final day, Nervous Systems’ Jesse Louis-Rosenberg and Jessica Rosenkrantz described their eclectic design practice, and how the studio uses generative design to create interactive forms. Kathy Velikov, the incoming 2018 president of ACADIA, discussed how ACADIA brings together a community engaged with design challenges and future-facing solutions. Much of the work shown could be brought back to the office or classroom, and either might be applicable today, or open new paths to research or near-future concepts, and tools that will change work across practices. "Next year we are excited that the ACADIA conference will be held in Mexico City," said Velikov in a statement after the conference. "We are partnering with Mexico City's Ibero-American University to host and organize the event. ACADIA is a North American organization, and while we have had several conferences in Canada, this is the first time we will be in Mexico." "Besides the obvious attraction of the vibrance, history, and design culture of Mexico City, this is a fantastic opportunity to frame conversations around computational design within a different technological and cultural context, and to be able to open conference to new communities of participants," he added. The 2018 ACADIA conference, Re/calibration: on imprecision and infidelity, will attempt to recalibrate the discourse around computational design research, and a new venue in a new country is the perfect place to shake things up. The Call for Papers is live and due May 1, 2018 The full list of award winners is as follows: Design Excellence Award Thomas Heatherwick Founder/Design Director, Ηeatherwick Studio  Digital Practice Award of Excellence Lisa Iwamoto & Craig Scott Founders, IWAMOTTOSCOTT ARCHITECTURE Society Award of Excellence Bob Martens Associate Professor, TU Wien Innovative Research Award of Excellence Wesley McGee Assistant Professor of Architecture, University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning/Co-founder, Matter Design Teaching Award of Excellence Heather Roberge Chair, UCLA School of Architecture and Urban Design/Founder, Murmur design Academic Program Award of Excellence Bartlett School of Architecture, B-Pro Program

Thomas Heatherwick unveils High Line towers with bulging window facades

Thomas Heatherwick and developer Related Companies have teamed up yet again, this time for a double-pronged condo tower that wraps around a section of Manhattan’s High Line. As first reported by CityRealty, marketing materials for the Heatherwick-designed 515 West 18th Street, and the nearby 555 West 22nd Street, designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA), are available via an EB-5 investor website. (EB-5 is a federal program designed to spur international investment by promising green cards in exchange for financing, or through the creation of 10 or more permanent jobs.) The two 18th street towers will straddle the High Line while remaining a single, connected building under the elevated rail park. The east tower will be 10 stories tall, while the west tower will be 22 stories, likely an attempt to maximize views of the neighboring Hudson River. The 425,000-square-foot development will contain 181 condos split across both towers, as well as 17,000-square feet of gallery and retail space. The most defining feature of the project are the barrel-shaped windows, which seem to balloon from within against a constraining brick frame. According to a Related official, the design is a “modern interpretation of the bay window.” As expected of a pricey development along the High Line, the Heatherwick's twin towers will be amenity-heavy and hold a fitness center, spa, entertainment lounges, and 175 on-site parking spots. The video walkthrough of the project seen below, including a look at the high-end interiors and amenity spaces, can also be found on the EB-5 site. Much less is known about the second project on West 22nd Street. The boxy, brick tower designed by RAMSA will likely contain 141 condo units and many of the same amenities as its cousin on 18th Street, but Related has released fewer details on this second building. Together, both projects will form a development tentatively titled the Hudson Residences. Related expects both projects to finish in mid-2020, though neither have fully cleared the city’s approval process. As such, the renderings and information released thus far are still subject to change. Heatherwick and Related have most recently worked together on the massive Vessel sculpture in Hudson Yards, and this collaboration makes sense as Related continues to develop projects along Manhattan’s west side, including the Zaha Hadid’s 520 West 28th. AN has reached out to Related Companies for a comment on the Hudson Residences, and will update this article with more information when it becomes available.

Heatherwick faces conflict of interest allegations in London’s Garden Bridge project

London-based designer Thomas Heatherwick is now facing conflict of interest questions after it was revealed that he was listed as the sole founding member of the Garden Bridge Trust, the charity responsible for organizing the nearly $268 million Garden Bridge project (which was canceled in April), and also participated in some of the trust's meetings and decisions. Previously, Heatherwick had denied any affiliation with the charity and insisted in media appearances that he was "just the designer." As first reported by The Architect’s Journal, Heatherwick, the bridge’s chosen designer, is not only listed as the only founding member of the Garden Bridge Trust, advocating for the creation of the trust, but also actively promoted the selection of some of its leaders, and lobbied and fundraised for the project locally and abroad. According to the studio, the founding member status is an honorary title bestowed upon Heatherwick. Still, questions remain as to whether the design contest held by Transport for London (TfL), the project’s original client, was held in good faith, as Heatherwick’s proposal ultimately ended up winning, and whether the procurement process was fair. Questions have also arisen over how approximately $62 million was spent on the project before it had even broken ground. Proposed as a public-private partnership in 2012 and backed by then-mayor of London Boris Johnson, the Garden Bridge would have spanned 1,200 feet and connected the city’s South Bank and Temple area to the north. Covered by over 270 trees and approximately 100,000 plants, the bridge would have also featured a frilled, arcing superstructure that actress Joanna Lumley, an early advocate of the project, compared to the mountain gardens of Malaysia. Despite the oasis-like nature of the project, questions over how funding for the pedestrian-only bridge would be raised had dogged the development since its conception. The bridge officially became a private project in 2013, with the newly-formed Garden Bridge Trust responsible for private fundraising and running the Garden Bridge once it was completed. Despite the trust raising over $92 million in private funds, Sadiq Khan, the newly elected mayor of London, declined to contribute more than an earlier pledge of $80 million, after costs had ballooned from an initial $80 million to the final $268 million. With questions over how openly accessible the bridge would be, as well as the ultimate benefit to the public, the controversial development was canceled. A Garden Bridge Trust spokesperson told The Architect’s Journal, "‘Thomas Heatherwick’s role as a Founding Member means that he is one of the 12 company Members of the Charity, all of whom hold collectively a small number of powers limited by the Companies Act 2006. The position of Founding Member has no special power or rights attached to it and is simply a title.” Similarly, a spokesperson for Heatherwick Studio told the Journal, "It’s well known that the studio’s role on the Garden Bridge was first as paid designer, and second as voluntary advocate." However, British politicians are calling for a full accounting of the process and how the funds were used.

Hudson Yards centerpiece “Vessel” tops out

Thomas Heatherwick’s $150 million Vessel sculpture has topped out only eight months after beginning construction. The freestanding staircase is set to anchor phase one of the Hudson Yards megaproject when it opens in 2019, when the five-acre public plaza where Vessel sits, opens to the public. The 150-foot tall, bronzed-steel and concrete Vessel is designed to react to its surroundings in both material and function. Containing over 2,400 steps, 80 landings and 154 flights of stairs, the sculpture gradually widens out from a 50-foot base to a 150-feet diameter at the top, and will offer visitors unobstructed views of the surrounding Hudson Yards neighborhood and the other side of the Hudson River. Fabrication on Vessel began in January, with the individual pieces made in Italy and shipped to the site from Port of Newark in New Jersey across the Hudson River. A time-lapse video of the sculpture's construction provided by Hudson Yards developer Related Companies can be found below. In a statement, the London-based Heatherwick said the following about the project: “Vessel is one of the most complex pieces of steelwork ever made. Today we are marking the exciting moment when the last of the enormous 75 pre-fabricated pieces which traveled all the way from Italy to Manhattan, has been assembled ahead of schedule and with astonishing geometric accuracy.” The climbable sculpture has been compared to a pinecone, a beehive, and countless other forms, while critics have questioned everything from the sculpture’s ADA compliance to the implications of running privately-funded public art spaces. Although the sculpture is only waiting for its cladding, railings, and lighting, Vessel won’t open to the public until early 2019. As part of phase one of Hudson Yards’ development, the surrounding construction on the landscaped plaza and nearby supertalls have necessitated that everything opens at the same time. Once that happens, visitors will be able to move from one west side attraction, the High Line, straight to Heatherwick’s soaring atrium.

Adjaye’s Studio Museum, a view from Mexico City, and other updates from the architects of Instagram

At The Architect’s Newspaper, we’re plain addicted to Instagram. Sure, we love seeing Brutalist concrete through “Inkwell” or “Ludwig” filters, but there’s also no better place to see where architects are getting their inspiration, how they’re documenting the built environment, and where they’ve traveled of late. Below, we bring you some of the best Instagrams of this past week! (Also, don’t forget to check out our Instagram account here.) Richard Meier & Partners unveiled a dual pedestrian and vehicular bridge in Alessandria, Italy, suspended from an enormous white steel arc. Sleek, Richard. https://www.instagram.com/p/BZgzzhAAhEe/?taken-by=richardmeierpartners Adjaye Associates released new, more detailed renderings for the new home of the Studio Museum in Harlem this week – along with this gorgeous model (via Field Condition). The five-story building block structure will increase the museum's space by 115 percent. It will break ground next year. https://www.instagram.com/p/BZg5koFFWWi/?taken-by=field_condition Not to over-saturate your feed with Iwan Baan, but he's just ... so good at what he does. Here, an aerial of BIG's big new LEGO House in Billund, Denmark – a terraced, colorful playground for adults and children alike. https://www.instagram.com/p/BZl7egsBk2t/?taken-by=iwanbaan Any excuse for a garden wall. Steven Holl Architects here tried a mock-up vertical sedum for the Kennedy Center expansion.  https://www.instagram.com/p/BZWMirrAprB/?taken-by=stevenhollarchitects You thought you could escape Thomas Heatherwick for a second – but here he is again, haunting your weekend. The Heatherwick-designed Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa opened in Cape Town last week, featuring immense sections cut out of concrete grain silos to form a central atrium. We demand receipts. https://www.instagram.com/p/BZV0CXohcx9/?taken-by=zeitzmocaa Finally, from Mexico City-based architect Michael Rojkind and his firm Rojkind Arquitectos, a sobering view of the future of reconstruction needed in the aftermath of the city's most recent earthquakes. He will be at a MAS Context fundraiser in Chicago to provide an update from Mexico City. https://www.instagram.com/p/BZha3qXF0M_/?taken-by=rojkindarquitectos That’s it for today, hashtag archilovers and quote-on-quote gallerinas. See you next week for more drama.

Thomas Heatherwick wins the ACADIA Design Excellence Award for 2017

[UPDATE 7/17/2017—This article has been updated to reflect that another faculty member from the Bartlett School of Architecture will be attending in lieu of Frederic Migayrou, who was previously listed below.] The Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA) has announced British designer Thomas Heatherwick as the winner of the institute's 2017 Design Excellence Award. Heatherwick, who founded his eponymous studio in 1994, will receive the award at this year's ACADIA conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts where he will be a keynote speaker. Running under the title Disciplines & Disruption, the conference will address how technology is impacting architectural design, as well as its methods and culture. Touching on advancements in fabrication, materials, and digital tools, Disciplines & Disruption will also look at how technology has connected—or in some cases, disrupted—once distinct facets of the discipline, making numerous realms of architecture more accessible. "Distinctions between design and making, building and urban scale, architecture and engineering, real and virtual, on site and remote, physical and digital data, professionals and crowds, are diminishing as technology increases the designer's reach far beyond the confines of the drafting board," reads a synopsis in a press release. Heatherwick will headline the conference and appear alongside Ben Fry, founder of Information Design; Neri Oxman, a director at Mediated Matter Group and of MIT's Media Lab; and Jessica Rosenkrantz & Jesse Louis-Rosenberg, founders of Nervous System. Other award winners, who will each deliver a mini keynote themselves, include Lisa Iwamoto and Craig Scott, Heather Roberge, faculty from the B-Pro program at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London, Wes McGee from the University of Michigan, and Bob Martens from the Technical University of Vienna. "Thomas Heatherwick's work epitomizes the high caliber of design innovation that ACADIA has sought to foster over the years," Jason Kelly Johnson, ACADIA president and founder of Future Cities Lab in San Francisco told The Architect's Newspaper, speaking of Heatherwick's award. "From furniture to bridges to buildings, his work is consistently experimental, iterative, and well-crafted. It also synthesizes digital and analog techniques in ground breaking ways. Thomas's upcoming ACADIA talk follows in a line of incredible awardee talks and keynote speakers including Zaha Hadid, Liz Diller, Greg Lynn, Manuel De Landa, and many others." The ACADIA conference will run from November 2 through the 4th.

Heatherwick’s Pier 55 gets green light—for now

It looks like Pier 55, a $250 million construction project on the Hudson River, will be moving forward—for now—after receiving the required permit modification approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on June 5. This approval of the design changes is the latest development in this project’s history of lawsuits and controversy. In March, the federal court vacated the permit based on the Clean Water Act, citing concerns that the pier’s construction would impact the river’s estuarine sanctuary. In turn, the Hudson River Park Trust and the Army Corps of Engineers filed an appeal and a modified application addressing those issues. The revised application for the 2.7-acre public park and performance space proposed the use of non-concrete fill for the piles supporting the pier as well as the removal of an adjacent barge. Designed by Thomas Heatherwick and funded by Barry Diller and his wife, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, the project has been advertised as an extension of the Hudson River Park with ample recreation space. The project has prominent supporters, including New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, who applauded the decision to issue a modified permit. “The development of Pier 55 will ensure that the park continues to attract millions of residents, tourists and travelers each year, while showing off the very best that New York has to offer,” he said in a press release. The main opponent of the project, the City Club of New York, has been filing multiple lawsuits against the Trust in an attempt to halt construction. Besides the environmental issues of building on the river, the group argues that the development of the project has been kept out of the public eye. The new army permit contains many deficiencies and still violates the Clean Water Act, according to Richard Emory, the City Club’s lawyer. “You can’t avoid the Clean Water Act by simply not putting fills and piles,” Emory said to The Architect’s Newspaper. “We will continue to pursue opposition,” he said, adding that new litigation is “extremely likely.”

Heatherwick’s Hudson River pier is a no-go

It looks like the Heatherwick pier on the Hudson is a no-go.

A federal court vacated the permit for building Pier 55, which was designed by Thomas Heatherwick and largely funded by fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg and her husband, financier Barry Diller.

Envisioned as a performance and events space that extends from Hudson River Park near 13th Street, the $200 million pier has sparked controversy from its inception.

Opponents, led by advocacy group the City Club of New York, found little public benefit in the project. The group asserted that the pier's undulating topography, supported by distinctive mushroom-cloud piles, would block views across the river from Hudson River Park, stir up pollutants in the silt, and block sunlight from hitting the water, making it a threat to marine life in the Hudson River estuary. From certain angles, the pier could be much flatter than initial renderings suggest.

In turn, the Hudson River Park Trust, the nonprofit that manages the park, declared that the 2.75-acre structure would provide much-needed recreation areas and cultural programming for thousands of New Yorkers.

The City Club brought multiple lawsuits against the Trust. In the latest, Judge Lorna G. Schofield of United States District Court said that Pier 55, despite its name and location, was mostly a park and a concert venue, and therefore wasn't dependent on the Hudson River for its existence. Unlike kayakers who depend on a boat launch, or swimmers on the beach, concertgoers and joggers could just as easily listen to music or work up a sweat somewhere else.

"We're very happy," said Michael Gruen, president of the City Club, told The Architect's Newspaper. "It looks like this ruling may be very beneficial for the public in terms of finally being done with a project that would obscure the view of the water and could very well go somewhere else."

Schofield's ruling, moreover, determined the pier would interfere with the Trust's fundamental obligation to maintain the Hudson as a fish and wildlife refuge.

“The Trust was given a duty to protect the estuarine sanctuary—and it failed to steward the river appropriately," said City Club lawyer Richard Emery. "Instead, it tried to put in a concert venue in one of the most important rivers in the world.”

The Trust shared the following statement when reached for comment: "We have won four challenges in four courts on this project. Not one of those decisions determined the proposed project would harm the environment—and neither does this one. But even if largely procedural, we are deeply disappointed by this ruling, and are reviewing it carefully to determine our next steps."

To continue the project, the Trust could re-apply for a permit with the Army Corp of Engineers, but the ruling (below) would make it almost impossible to build out Heatherwick's vision.

This post was updated with more information on the March 23 ruling.

 

Pier 55 may lose one-third of its signature sculptural underside

This article has been updated with a new statement from the HRPT on the pier's design. The newest waterfront park on the Hudson may not appear quite like the stunning first renderings suggest. The Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT), a public benefit corporation in charge of Hudson River Park, wants to change its plans for the design of Pier 55. Initially conceived as an undulating 2.7-acre park supported by more than 500 mushroom cloud–like "pots" (precast concrete piers), the park was downsized slightly (to 2.4 acres), and many of the signature pots will be replaced by a flat structural base sandwiched between the piles and the landscaping. Conceived by London-based Heatherwick Studio and executed in collaboration with landscape architect Mathews Nielsen, the pier's sculpted topography, rising to six stories in some places, would host concerts, events, and public art in a sylvan setting that draws inspiration from the colors Acadia National Park in Maine. Over the objections of public space advocates, most of Pier 55's design and construction costs are being paid for privately by the fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg and her husband, media executive Barry Diller. Overall, estimates place the project cost at more than $200 million, with the city contributing $37 million in funding. The Architect's Newspaper obtained a copy of a permit modification request the HRPT submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers that outlines changes to Pier 55's design (PDF). The changes raise questions about its final appearance, and about a design process that's shaped a major public space largely outside of the public eye. The modifications dramatically reduce the number of pots, a signature design element. In a letter to the Army Corps, the HRPT requested the changes because potential construction partners "expressed reluctance" to bid on the project, citing concerns about the pots' complex fabrication and installation challenges. The HRPT explained that an inadequate pool of bidders could lead to runaway construction costs. New drawings reduce the number of piles by 27 and the number of pots from 202 to 132. The remaining pots will be concentrated on the pier perimeter, concealing an interior supported by more traditional piles in steel and concrete. To visualize the changes, the original, more sculpted topography is depicted above, while the modified version of the design is below: Initially, the pots were supposed to provide the structure for the topography throughout; now the architects will use light foam material to create the rolling hills depicted in the renderings. In light of these substantial design modifications, one public space advocacy group is doubling down on its vocal opposition to the project. "Pier 55 was conceived and sold on the basis of a major sculptural art, so by putting it on a flat base and putting a lace tablecloth around it, the whole thing becomes a parody of itself," said Michael Gruen, president of the City Club of New York. The proposed changes, Gruen added, would reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the river for at least one hour per day by 36 percent, which could have an impact on marine life. The City Club has opposed Pier 55 almost since its inception. In a suit filed last year against the State Department of Environmental Conservation, the civic group's legal team contended that the Trust didn't do a proper environmental review of the project. In an email to supporters, the Club confirmed that that suit was dismissed, but called the court's decision "distressingly inaccurate." A second suit against the Army Corps of Engineers, the main permitting agency for the project, is ongoing. (Diller has called the lawsuits “garbage balls thrown at us.”) The group also contends that Pier 55, which sits between two city blocks, would obscure cherished public views of the Hudson. Plans show that the pier ranges in height from 9.5 to 61 feet above the waterline, potentially blocking the now-sweeping views. When reached for comment on the viewshed, pot count, and a request to verify other basic information in the document, the Trust, citing the pending litigation, declined to provide additional information "beyond what [it] has provided to the Army Corps." (Since press time, the Trust has issued the following statement: "The Trust has made technical alterations to make the project easier to build, but the topography, landscaping, program and size have not changed. Construction continues and we're looking forward to opening this addition to Hudson River Park in 2019." ) This article appears on HoverPin, a new app that lets you build personalized maps of geo-related online content based on your interests: architecture, food, culture, fitness, and more. Never miss The Architect’s Newspaper’s coverage of your city and discover new, exciting projects wherever you go! See our HoverPin layer here and download the app from the Apple Store.

What do New Yorkers get when privately-funded public art goes big?

When Thomas Heatherwick—the nimble London-based designer known for work that defies easy categorization—unveiled his design for a new public landmark called Vessel at Hudson Yards to a crowd of reporters and New York City power players in September, questions abounded. What is it? What will it do to the neighborhood? And what does it say that Stephen Ross, the president and CEO of Related Companies, the primary developer of Hudson Yards, is financing the entire $250 million piece by himself?

It’s natural that Ross chose Heatherwick Studio to design his centerpiece, because the office’s creations stun. For the UK Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo, it extruded 60,000 clear acrylic tubes from a center space to create a fuzzy, crystalline object whose apparent fragility is as mesmerizing as it is clever. As the studio moves toward ever-larger and ever-more-public commissions, the people who will live with its work will need to seriously consider what it will mean for their neighborhoods and cities.

Interactive public art is plentiful, but there are no pieces with the built-in interactivity of Vessel. In Chicago, tourists snap selfies with Anish Kapoor’s parabolic Cloud Gate (the Bean), while at New York’s Astor Place visitors can now once again give Bernard Rosenthal’s Alamo (the Cube) a spin. Vessel is supposed to be to Hudson Yards what the Christmas tree is to Rockefeller Center, but on display all year round. Related said it’s a “new kind of public landmark,” while The New York Times called it “a stairway to nowhere.” Heatherwick referred to it as a “device.” Critics have been unable, or unwilling, to name it. There’s power in naming, so let’s call Vessel what it is—it is architecture. It fulfills the most basic criteria for the category: The piece serves a purpose and acts as an apparatus for the reorientation of the body in relationship to both the ground and the city.

Vessel’s 2,400 steps will anchor the largest private development in the U.S., lifting visitors above Hudson Yards’ 14 acres of parks and plazas. The elevations will give New Yorkers and tourists—siphoned off a to-be-constructed High Line spur—a place to view each other and all the stalagmitic towers of Hudson Yards. When complete, the 16-story structure will be the tallest freestanding observation platform in the city, at least until Staten Island’s New York Wheel starts rolling.

Formally, the piece is inspired by Indian stepwells, but according to Heatherwick, it’s a monument “to us.” Like Pier 55, the architect’s park on mushroom stilts on the lower west side, Vessel has instant visual currency—critics have compared it to a snakeskin teacup, honeycombs, bedbugs, and a döner kebab. For its creator, it’s a bespoke response to the globalized taste that plants boring glass curtain-wall towers in Shanghai and London and plops blue chip art on corporate plazas in Los Angeles and Chicago. Vessel is the antidote that nurtures a spirit of togetherness: “Buildings are getting bigger and bigger—that mega-scale, it’s something new,” Heatherwick told AN at the unveiling. “But 2,000 years ago, humans were mostly the same size we are now. The human scale stays true.” Like its creator, who the press has affectionately compared to Willy Wonka, Vessel is so earnest: Its intricate symmetry and aesthetics divorce the grand stair from a signal of power and prestige, while its ostensibly public nature decouples the ordinary stair from its floor-to-floor workaday obligation.

Underneath its sincerity, though, Vessel harbors serious contradictions. Heatherwick said it “has no commercial objective,” which is hard to buy when the structure is the ultimate native advertising: It will sit smack in the middle of a five-acre park in the eastern yard designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz, a jewel in a glittery crown. It puts Ross’s taste and design acumen on display for public admiration. As a gathering space, it’s intended to integrate the raw development—which sits on a crust of artificial land over its namesake rail yards—into the rich fabric of New York City.

A proper design narrative, rolled out by the mayor and a multiracial dance troupe from Alvin Ailey, paves the way for public acceptance and mental integration before the idea is built out. Who could argue with Heatherwick’s kumbaya, a campaign for one New York?

In a city where even the ultra-rich hustle in and out of the subway, Vessel elevates the time-honored art of the schlep to civic priority—sort of. Heatherwick said it has no prescribed meaning, and that it is up to the public to decide—a vote for radical spatial practice if there ever was one. There’s tremendous satisfaction, too, in hauling up a long set of set of stairs, our urban mountainsides. The whole-body high from ascending a tough trail, or emerging from the Lexington Avenue–63rd Street subway station, humbles screaming quads before God, gravity, and smart engineers. Heatherwick’s gift to the city of New York, defines a citizen-subject as one who can walk—a lot. In a promotional video for Hudson Yards, Heatherwick says “it’s extremely interactive, but properly,” slapping his torso and thighs, “using your physicality.”

On the surface, there’s a positive correlation between the healthy metropolis—a public ideal that New York embraces—and the fit citizen—a personal ideal. But we’re still far from health equity. 

Sure, the piece will be ADA-compliant; curving elevators will sweep the wheelchair users, arthritic citizens, moms and dads with strollers, tired people, the very unathletic, and the time-crunched up to the top. For those of us fit enough to make it up even some of those steps, the terraces will form a bronzed steel beehive with neat new perspectives on the city. Flânerie never goes out of style, and in 2018 when Vessel opens, people will be watching other people on screens, too, documenting the fun on Instagram in a flurry of #Heatherwicks. Millennial employees of VaynerMedia, a Hudson Yards tenant, might use the thing as a StairMaster, and I predict there will be a Buzzfeed article on how to keep in shape with the new outdoor fitness structure. For his part, Heatherwick hopes that Vessel can be used for live performance, a dynamic and ostensibly more public forum than a Broadway theater or DS+R’s slick corporate Shed adjacent to Heatherwick’s piece. (So corporate, in fact, that “Culture” was removed from the name.)

However, even though initial renderings usually oversell the final product, Heatherwick’s visions are particularly egregious. Although the structure is being assembled right now, the renderings raise troubling questions about the gap between the not-architecture-but-still-architecture’s intended and probable uses.

As his Shanghai Expo pavilion, his redesigned Routemaster bus for London, and his 2012 Olympic cauldron demonstrate, Heatherwick is a master detailer and global designer adept at translating compelling human themes to local contexts. The Vessel model, which Ross reportedly kept under lock and key in his office, has been ready for months. Why then, at the public unveiling in September, were so many details missing?

Consider the crowds. Heatherwick’s piece is supposed to take the success of the High Line and spin it vertically. Though pioneering, the High Line has received justified criticism for its crowding and lack of surprises, but at least it gets you, slowly, from place to place (and, as art critic Jerry Saltz observed, it keeps tourists out of Chelsea’s galleries). If on nice days the High Line backs up, how will crowds be managed on a structure that only has egresses at its base? Heatherwick insists Vessel will be free to visit, but how besides timed and ticketed entry will the structure accommodate everyone?

If it’s as popular as its creators believe, Vessel will attract not only people but also those other New Yorkers: The pigeons. The structure seems ready-made for roosting, and I can’t imagine how hard it will be to properly enjoy Vessel while dodging dove turds. And in cold weather, I hope Ross will be more sedulous about de-icing the platforms than the neighbors on every block who make pedestrian booby traps out of sidewalks in front of their buildings.

As one climbs up Vessel, the railings stay just above waist height all the way up to the structure’s top, but when you build high, folks will jump. After a student leapt into the soaring central atrium of NYU’s Bobst Library seven years ago, the school installed metal fencing—on top of the Plexiglas barriers it had put in years earlier in response to other suicides. Philip Johnson and Richard Foster didn’t see the death in the design that the public’s morbid ideation uncovered, but Ross and Heatherwick seem not to have learned from Bobst, or from the city’s bridges and iconic tall buildings. If barriers are installed, how will they affect the views, Vessel’s main selling point?

Critics have compared Vessel to the Eiffel Tower, but Paris’s landmark is very much of its era, and meaning-making in our time has moved beyond tit-for-tat semiotics. New York has the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, One World Trade Center, and any number of other symbols with which to broadcast its image. Plus, we’re on Instagram: Times Square is the world’s most-tagged location, more featured than the number-two tagged Eiffel Tower. There is already an essential New York space on a billion screens.

At this hour, there’s truly no point in reviving the perennial debate about the vacuousness of privately-owned-and-operated public space. The structure, surrounded on all sides by condos that start at $2 million, a Neiman Marcus, and a Thomas Keller restaurant, is a footnote in a city where politicians and developers plan expensive malls but call them transit hubs; where amateur urban planners like multimillionaire couple Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg, patrons of Heatherwick’s Pier 55, shape public priorities; and impressive but empty fortresses for billionaires jostle each other for space in the sky. In its size and ambition, Vessel feels significant in some way, but in contrast to the High Line’s renegotiation of the urban park, Vessel feels like a Gilded Age geegaw foisted on the city by a “benevolent” rich guy.

Heatherwick Studio unveils design for new device at Hudson Yards

Over the din of construction on nearby towers, today Anderson Cooper moderated a panel discussion and design unveiling of Vessel, Heatherwick Studio's new public work at Hudson Yards
Stephen M. Ross, president of Related Companies, Thomas Woltz, founding principal of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects (NBW), and Thomas Heatherwick of Heatherwick Studios spoke with Cooper about the value of public space in New York and the opportunities that designing a park and plaza ab ova present. The project's cost was previously reported as $200 million, though there's been no update on whether that's changed with the just-unveiled design.
"Vessel was really unlike anything I've ever seen in New York. We wanted something great. The city is about having great public places," gushed Ross, whose real estate firm is a co-developer of Hudson Yards, the 365-acre mixed-used development on Manhattan's Far West Side. Heatherwick's design, he said, "was love at first sight.”

In a see-and-be-seen city where even the ultra-rich schlep in and out of the subway, Vessel elevates the time-honored art of flânerie to civic priority. Its 154 vertiginous steel-and-concrete staircases are meant to help visitors experience Hudson Yards and surrounding people from as many angles as desired (or, perhaps, angles unintended). The stairs and viewing platforms converge in a lattice that suggests a panopticon with the geometry of an inverted beehive. When complete, the 16-story structure will be the tallest freestanding observation platform in the city (at least until the New York Wheel starts rolling).

"So often, historic public spaces are commemorating kings, or battles, or tragedies. But this is a new public space. It would be a fake duty to look back," Heatherwick told The Architect's Newspaper. Instead, the project reacts to a 21st-century urban condition: "Buildings are getting bigger and bigger—that mega-scale, it's something new. But 2,000 years ago, humans were mostly the same size we are now. The human scale stays true. This project was not driven by fitness or health alone, but more by how we could nurture the human scale."

Hudson Yards, Cooper maintained, needed an attraction for those humans—a Christmas tree 365 days per year but also something the public could interact with. “It was an extraordinary thing, to make a new public square, in the center of the city," Heatherwick said, comparing Hudson Yards to Trafalgar Square and Bryant Park. "We felt enormous pressure to not make gardens but to make an urban square, an extension of New York."

The design blends a key cue from the High Line—elevation—and reacts to the city’s fire escapes, stoops, and the countless staircases that facilitate the flow of people in the city. “We wanted to make a project out of just stairs, an ultimate body thing,” Heatherwick explained. Visitors can hit their FitBit goals twice over by climbing 250 flights to the structure's top.

On the ground, NBW collaborated with Heatherwick to create the Public Square and Gardens at Hudson Yards, a six-acre public space that links Hudson Yards with Hudson River Park and the High Line, which will get a new on-site entrance at Tenth Avenue and 30th Street.

Like Heatherwick, who designed Vessel's teacup form with upper-story office workers in mind, Woltz wanted "to create a site that was quite graphic" for the square and gardens. The firm consulted 400-year-old maps to determine the site's original environmental conditions (it was a wet meadow) and captured a snapshot of native flora from that time, Woltz told AN.

This is one of NBW's two active commissions for landscapes over infrastructure: The platform the park sits on is the ventilation cover for the rail yard below, and the platform had to be engineered to support 200 mature trees. “The landscape operates in a seven-foot-thick sandwich of structure. I will never in my life take for granted being on real earth, because everything here is constructed,” Woltz said.

Amid exhalations on Twitter, some raised concerns about the accessibility of the public spaces, especially Vessel, whose stair-fixation seemed to exclude parents with strollers and people who use wheelchairs.

A model depicted elevators on a fixed track—hardly the expansive views and exuberant movement promised by the architects. The project is inclusive, Heatherwick maintained. He told AN that the model is outdated; new renderings, including the bird's eye view, below, were captured from elevators that snake around Vessel's insides on curving tracks.

The High Line, with the new perspectives it gives people on public (and private) space, was key to Heatherwick's approach to Vessel, which he calls "a device, not a sculpture." In the most successful public spaces, there's a chemistry to seeing that's aided by human interaction, he said. A good public space, too, should offer an element of play. "I asked, 'Why are playgrounds only made for children?' We're creating a vertical structure for all of us."

Vessel will be complete in 2018.