Influenced by the M.C. Escher-esque designs of Indian stepwells, British architect Thomas Heatherwick has unveiled plans for a giant stairway to nowhere in New York City’s Hudson Yards. Tentatively titled “Vessel,” the public landmark will consist of 154 intersecting flights of stairs and 80 landings zigzagging up above a plaza and garden on the far west side of Manhattan. Made of bronzed steel and concrete, the structure is slated to open in 2018.
Resembling a giant bronze ribcage — or a beehive, or a basket, depending on whom you ask — “Vessel” will weigh 600 tons and cost $150 million. It will be among the least utilitarian structures of its size in a space-starved city: its 2,500 steps don’t lead to any offices or condominiums or retail spaces. Instead, the sculptural “Vessel” will essentially function as a massive observation tower and jungle gym. While hiking the miles worth of stairs to the top, 16 stories up, visitors will get 360-degree views of the surrounding city and a free workout. A curving elevator will make the structure wheelchair accessible.
In addition to Indian stepwells, Heatherwick’s design was inspired by a beloved piece of urban detritus from his youth. “When I was a student, I fell in love with an old discarded flight of wooden stairs outside a local building site,” Heatherwick said in a statement about the design. “It caught my imagination and I loved that it 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, when Heatherwick’s studio was commissioned by Hudson Yards developer Related Companies to create a centerpiece landmark for the site, this old discarded wooden staircase came to mind. “We wondered whether [the commission] could be built entirely from steps and landings?” Heatherwick said. “The goal became to lift people up to be more visible and to enjoy new views and perspectives of each other. … 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.”
While the cost of this piece leaves me feeling on the faint side, I have to say I love the idea of stairs being allowed to be the focus, rather than just a way to get to something else, with the something else always being more important. This makes me feel a childish joy. It’s lovely to look at, too. It’s just the cost of it all that bothers; all that money could do so much good. Well, here’s hoping this does people a lot of good on the spiritual side of life.
Hyperallergic has the full story.