Heatherwick Studio steps up in New York

Nick Myall
Thursday 15 Sep 2016

Plans for a new public space and landmark designed by Heatherwick Studio are unveiled at Hudson Yards in Manhattan, New York

Heatherwick Studio has unveiled plans for a new public space in New York that welcomes the public to enter, climb and experience the city in a whole new way. It will sit in a public plaza and gardens designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects forming part of the city's largest urban development since the 1930s Rockefeller Center.

At a lively outdoor event held on 14 September on Manhattan’s West Side, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Chairman and Founder of Related Companies Stephen M. Ross, renowned designer and founder of Heatherwick Studio, Thomas Heatherwick, and celebrated landscape architect Thomas Woltz unveiled plans for the public landmark initially called Vessel – as the centerpiece to a grand new public space. 

The Public Square and Gardens at Hudson Yards, designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, in collaboration with Heatherwick Studio, will feature more than five acres of public plazas, gardens and groves that seamlessly connect to the High Line and the new Hudson Park & Boulevard. When complete, this continuous chain of open spaces on the West Side will run from Gansevoort Street to Times Square, making it the largest network of public spaces developed in Manhattan since Central Park. At its centre will sit Vessel, designed by Heatherwick Studio. With the development of the second phase of Hudson Yards, this new public space will also connect across 30th Street to the final phase of Hudson River Park, extending the bike paths from the George Washington Bridge to the north, south to the Battery.

Vessel is a new kind of public landmark: engaging and interactive, meant to be climbed and explored.

Comprised of 154 intricately interconnecting flights of stairs – almost 2,500 individual steps – and 80 landings – Vessel will lift the public up, offering a multitude of ways to engage with and experience New York, Hudson Yards and each other. In total, Vessel will offer a mile’s worth of pathway rising up above the Gardens.

The dramatic design of Vessel creates a stage set for New Yorkers and visitors from around the world: a geometric lattice of intersecting flights of stairs, whose form rises from a base that is 50 feet in diameter and widens at the top to 150 feet. It is constructed of a structural painted steel frame, its underside surfaces covered by a polished copper-coloured steel skin.

Thomas Heatherwick, Designer and Founder of Heatherwick Studio, said: “My studio was commissioned to design a centrepiece for an unusual new piece of land in New York. In a city full of eye-catching structures, our first thought was that it shouldn’t just be something to look at. Instead we wanted to make something that everybody could use, touch, relate to. Influenced by images we had seen of Indian stepwells, made from hundreds of flights of stairs going down into the ground, an idea emerged to use flights of stairs as building elements.

When I was a student, I fell in love with an old discarded flight of wooden stairs outside a local building site. It caught my imagination and I loved that is was part furniture and part infrastructure. You could climb up stairs, jump on them, dance on them, get tired on them and then plonk yourself down on them.

Years later, suddenly here was an opportunity to make a new kind of landmark for Hudson Yards. We wondered whether it could be built entirely from steps and landings? The goal became to lift people up to be more visible and to enjoy new views and perspectives of each other. When the project is complete it will be 16 stories high, almost a linear mile of new public space. The idea is that it will act as a new free stage set for the city and form a new public gathering place for New Yorkers and visitors.”

Hudson Yards is being developed by Related Companies and Oxford Properties Group. Now under construction on the far West Side of Midtown Manhattan, from 30th to 34th Streets between Tenth Avenue and the West Side Highway, Hudson Yards is the largest private real estate development in the history of the United States and the largest development in New York City since Rockefeller Center in 1939. When completed in 2025, Hudson Yards will include more than 17 million square feet of commercial and residential space, with state-of-the-art office towers, more than 100 shops, a collection of restaurants, approximately 4,000 residences, a 750-seat public school, an Equinox® branded luxury hotel with more than 200 rooms and 14 acres of public open space. More than 125,000 people a day will work in, visit or call Hudson Yards their home. Ten Hudson Yards opened earlier this year and the Public Square and Gardens and Vessel will open to the public in 2018. 

Listen to our podcast with Thomas Heatherwick here

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Nick Myall

News editor

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