Thomas Heatherwick’s Floating Park Needs a Brighter Future : The Reopening of The Vessel

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One of Britain’s many famous architects, Thomas Heatherwick’s architectural work has always made heads turn. Built as a centerpiece of the Hudson Yards in Manhattan East, the structure was designed as a homage to the stepped wells of India, with a series of landings and flights of stairs.

The studio wanted to create a sort of landmark, for tourists and New Yorkers as a space for introspection and connection, where the visitors could relate to the structure visually and mentally. Constructed in 2013 and opened in 2019, The 46m tall structure features 80 platforms connected in a sort of Hexagonal pattern arranged around a circular plan. The spiraling climbable structure increases in diameter as the visitor goes up. With copper-painted undersides and raw steel surfaces, the structure looks like a futuristic giant honeycomb. 

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When being constructed, the structure was subject to large amounts of criticism from architects and citizens alike. Furthermore, it became the center of attention during a tragedy. A 19-year-old man had jumped off the building in February 2019 followed by a 24- year-old woman who jumped off the structure in December of 2020.

Then in January 2020, a 21-year-old man also took his own life at the site, forcing the landmarks to close. 4 months later on Friday the 28th, 2021 it was opened back up for public use. The structure now has completely new rules to be followed, to prevent any kind of tragedy to happen again.

One of the rules includes a new ‘buddy system’ which will require all tourists and visitors to be in groups of two or more before entering the premises. Having a buddy system like this would ensure that all visitors are accompanied by at least one more person, so neither can wander off by themselves.

“Requiring visitors to attend in groups of two or more significantly enhances the safety of the experience.” said a spokesperson for the Hudson Yards. Tourists who are alone will be added to other groups to ensure no one moves around alone. Additionally, the fees to visit the landmark have been increased to $10 per individual, to pay for a more advanced security system. 

Architecture and Suicide

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Architecture does not exist in a vacuum. Therefore, The debate on whether architecture is directly responsible for suicides is one that is highly contested.

While one can proclaim that architects have only one job, and that is creating a building or design that fits its function and that architects are not responsible for the decisions of individuals who choose to use their work for something as tragic as suicide, the corollary can be equally as valid.

An architect also has the responsibility of creating a structure that is fully equipped to keep its user safe, in terms of suicide. A design that exists in a social space and hopes to become a part of the local culture cannot be thought of as an entity that is entirely devoid of responsibility for how it can be used.

Most large buildings and skyscrapers take care to install railings, camera systems, and barricades that prevent situations like these from happening as it can not only be a social issue but also a public relations one. A building that is associated with death and suicide doesn’t invoke feelings of comfort and belonging but instead is always looked at with suspicion. Even if the design methodology cannot be compromised by adding additional physical barriers, proper administration and precautions must be taken to prevent such tragedies from taking place.

Therefore, though technically the architect cannot be held responsible for a building being infamous for its suicide problem, it is important to consider it in your design and maintenance protocols nevertheless because it’s essential to perceptions one has to space and therefore to the building as a whole.

Thomas Heatherwich’s architecture has always had a huge impact on the people it was made for. The Vessel is one such building that not only brings in tourism but leaves a huge impression on the visitors. While the suicides that occurred there were extremely tragic, the architecture of the space should not be labeled as such. The Vessel is a great landmark in New York City that will slowly become a notable sight to see for any who comes to the city!

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Saili Sawantt
Saili Sawantt
Architect and Interior Designer by profession, Writing is what she treats as her passion. She has worked as an Architectural Writer, Editor, and Journalist for various design as well as digital portals like ParametricArchitecture, FOAID (Festival of Architecture & Interior Design), Rethinking the Future (RTF), La Polo International, etc. Formerly she has also worked with Godrej Properties Limited (GPL) Design Studio, Mumbai due to her keen interested in learning about Sustainability and Green buildings. Apart from this, she runs her blog 'The Reader's Express'.

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