Beginning of construction, May 2017
Map of buildings and structures at Hudson Yards. Zoom the map and click on points for more details.
This map: viewtalkedit
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, 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 media first reported Heatherwick's commissioning in October 2013.
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 Vessel's 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.
Vessel was criticized for its associated photo policies at the time of its opening. Hudson Yards, the owner of Vessel, claimed ownership of all pictures and videos taken of Vessel, and reserves the right to use any photos or videos taken for commercial purposes without paying royalty fees. This privileged use of photos and videos by Hudson Yards, a private company, has been criticized because Hudson Yards has benefited from $4.5 billion in tax revenue. After criticism emerged about Vessel's copyright policy, Hudson Yards modified the policy so visitors would have ownership of photos of Vessel.
After Vessel opened, critics wrote that it was largely inaccessible for wheelchair users. As built, Vessel mainly consisted of stairs, with only a single elevator to connect one of the sets of landings. Because of this, disability-rights groups protested outside the structure. The United States Department of Justice filed a complaint alleging that because of the number of separate landings within Vessel, most of the structure was not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, except for the portions directly outside the elevator. Furthermore, elevator stops on the fifth and seventh stories were sometimes skipped due to overcrowding concerns. In December 2019, Related Companies and Vessel operator ERY Vessel LLC reached an agreement with the Department of Justice to increase accessibility to the structure by adding wheelchair lifts and retaining elevator access to all levels.
On February 1, 2020, a 19-year-old man jumped from the sixth floor of the structure and died; the media reported this as the first such incident involving the Vessel. On December 22, 2020, a 24-year-old woman jumped from the top of the structure and also died. A third fatality occurred less than a month later on January 11, 2021, when a 21-year-old man jumped from the Vessel. Following the third death, the structure was indefinitely closed while the Related Companies consulted with experts on a strategy to prevent future suicides. Residents of the surrounding neighborhoods hired a suicide prevention expert, who suggested adding netting or raising the glass barriers. However, no changes were ultimately made to the barriers.
Vessel was reopened at the end of May 2021, but all visitors were required to be accompanied by at least one other person. In addition, after the first hour of each day, all visitors above five years old had to pay $10 for a ticket. Tickets for the first hour of the day, as well as tickets for children five and under, were free. Revenue from ticket sales was to directly fund additional safety upgrades. Two months after Vessel reopened, on July 29, 2021, a 14-year-old boy jumped to his death while he was with his family. After the fourth death, Vessel was again closed indefinitely. Stephen Ross said at the time he was considering closing the structure permanently.
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