Erehwon Stairway.

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.”

Thomas Heatherwick Studio, rendering for “Vessel” (2016) (all images by and courtesy Forbes Massie).

Thomas Heatherwick Studio, rendering for “Vessel” (2016) (all images by and courtesy Forbes Massie).

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.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    A curving elevator??? This guy either has or desperately needs an ace engineer for this project.

  2. says

    Oh, man, that’s nuts.

    I’ve been in Bloomberg HQ in NYC a couple of times; they have these famous curved escalators. They cost, of course, a ridiculous amount of money. I don’t think I’ve been there once when there wasn’t one of the escalators undergoing repairs. They probably keep a whole team of escalator repair-people busy full-time.

    I just had a fantasy flash about a future time in which all non-creative work is performed by robots. So humans still have jobs doing the stuff that requires complex repairs (diagnosis and repair being a creative activity, unit replacement being a robotic activity) So repairing an escalator has become a performance art: the troupe arrives, starts playing suitable music, the ringmaster announces “The Repair is Beginning!” then the repair crew bustle out of the car with their prop outsized tools, and go to work..

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    I useta dream of Hollywood making big movies of Alfred Bester’s novels.

    Now I shudder to think what, say, Spielberg would do to them.

  4. says


    I useta dream of Hollywood making big movies of Alfred Bester’s novels.

    The Stars My Destination has been optioned several times, by different people. I love that story, and I’d love to see the movie made, but only if it could be true to Bester. I’d rather have no movie than one that was pure Hollywood bullshit.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    Caine @ # 10: Agreed entirely. And doubly so for Samuel R. Delany!

    cubist @ # 11 -- Props for the 1st Alfred Bester/Donald A. Wollheim mashup I’ve ever seen! (Pssst -- Gully Foyle!)

  6. Ice Swimmer says

    Now, if the structure would encourage enough people to excercise (by climbing the stairs) that it would make a significant dent on the cardiac diseases in the working-age population of NYC, that might offset the cost.

    The contraption looks nice and airy.

    I read the Finnish translation of Stars My Destination as a teen and loved it.

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