The Vessel in New York

The Vessel in New York – The Hudson Yards Vessel History

What is the strange structure known as the Vessel in New York? The Vessel structure forms part of the Hudson Yards Redevelopment project and is a visitor attraction. The Hudson Yards Vessel was designed by Thomas Heatherwick and it comprises 16 stories of various landings that visitors can ascend using the 154 flights of stairs. The Vessel structure is Hudson Yards Public Square’s main feature and cost around $200 million to build.



Exploring the Vessel in New York

ArchitectThomas Heatherwick (1970 – Present)
Date Completed15 March 2019
FunctionVisitor attraction
LocationHudson Yards, Manhattan, New York City, United States

The conceptual design of the Hudson Yards Vessel was unveiled on the 14th of September 2016. The parts were made in Italy and sent to the United States, and construction started in April 2017. The Vessel in New York’s topmost component was installed in December 2017 and was opened to the general public on the 15th of March, 2019. Following three suicides on the Vessel, it was closed to the public indefinitely in January 2021. It reopened in May 2021 but was shut permanently following another suicide just two months later. The Vessel structure got mixed reviews upon its debut, with some appreciating its prominent location within Hudson Yards and others dismissing the project as excessive. Hudson Yard Vessel was also attacked at first for its tight copyright policy regarding photos of the structure, as well as for its accessibility issues for disabled tourists, both of which were later resolved.

Hudson Yards Vessel The Vessel in Hudson Yards (2021); Kidfly182, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Description of The Hudson Yards Vessel

The Vessel in New York, designed by Thomas Heatherwick, features 2,500 steps, with a total length of 1.6 kilometers. The copper-clad steps, constructed like a school playground jungle gym and inspired by Indian step-wells, can accommodate 1,000 people at once. The Vessel structure measures 15 meters in width at the base and 46 meters wide at the top. The CEO of Hudson Yards’ developer, Stephen Ross, remarked that its distinctive shape was designed to make the skyscraper stand out like an “all-year-round Christmas tree”. Heatherwick stated that he planned for individuals to ascend and experience the structure as if it were a massive jungle gym, before taking in the view of the Hudson River from the top.

The Vessel structure is housed in Hudson Yards Public Square, a 5-acre site that houses 225 trees and 28,000 plants in total designed by Thomas Woltz.

A canopy made of trees may be found on the plaza’s southern side and a fountain can be found at the plaza’s southeast entrance. Although the Hudson Yards Vessel was originally estimated to cost $75 million, the figure was eventually raised to $200 million. Heatherwick attributed the much higher price to the complexities of fabricating the steel parts needed. The Vessel’s components were built in the Italian town of Monfalcone and ships then brought the sculpture’s components to the Hudson River ports. The Vessel structure still does not have an official name and was only meant to be temporarily called “Vessel” until a suitable name had been found. A website was launched after construction ended to get the public to submit a name for the structure.

The Hudson Yards Vessel The Hudson Yards development in New York City (2019); Epicgenius, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


The History of Hudson Yards Vessel

Related Companies CEO Stephen Ross stated that he “decided to commission something revolutionary and monumental,” which resulted in the design of the Vessel. Ross approached five unidentified designers known for developing similar plazas and asked them for comprehensive submissions. When he declined all of the proposals, a coworker referred Ross to Heatherwick. Six weeks after they communicated, Ross approved Heatherwick’s proposal promptly because it “contained everything I wanted”. 

Heatherwick says that his concept for the Vessel structure evolved from a childhood encounter when he “fell in love with an old abandoned flight of wooden steps outside a nearby building site”.

On the 14th of September, 2016, the idea was introduced to the public at an event attended by hundreds of individuals, including Bill de Blasio, New York City’s Mayor. The event, which was hosted by Anderson Cooper, included a piece by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater that recalled the interconnected pattern of Vessel’s stairs. The first main section of the work was placed at Hudson Yards in April 2017. The assembly of the first 10 parts of the 75-piece edifice began on the 18th of April. In October 2018, it was revealed that Hudson Yards Vessel would open on the 15th of March, 2019, and that tickets to access the structure would be sold a month before. By January 2019, Hudson Yards management was seeking public input on renaming the Vessel in New York.

The Vessel Structure Inside view of “The Vessel”, part of the Hudson Yards, New York City, USA (2019); Stefan Kemmerling, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Controversies Surrounding the Vessel in New York

At the time of its launch, Hudson Yards Vessel was condemned for its strict photo rules. Hudson Yards claimed ownership of any photographs of the vessel and reserved the right to use any photographs or videos obtained for commercial reasons without paying royalties. Hudson Yards, a private enterprise, has been admonished for its exclusive ownership of images and films, despite the fact that the firm had received $4.5 billion in tax revenue. Following the criticism of Vessel’s copyright policy, the company changed the rules so that visitors would own their own images of Vessel.

When Vessel first launched, detractors complained that it was primarily inaccessible to people in wheelchairs. It was mostly made of steps when it was erected, with only one elevator connecting one of the landing sets.

Consequently, disability rights activists demonstrated outside the edifice. The Department of Justice filed a complaint saying that, with the exception of the areas just outside the elevator, most of the construction was not compatible with the Americans with Disabilities Act due to the number of distinct landings comprising the Vessel structure. Additionally, due to congestion concerns, elevator pauses on the fifth and seventh levels were occasionally bypassed. They came to an agreement with the Department of Justice in December 2019 to improve the accessibility to the Vessel by installing wheelchair elevators and guaranteeing all levels of access.

Inside the Vessel Structure The Vessel in New York Seen from the Inside (2019); NannaFoss, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Suicides at the Vessel in New York

On the 1st of February, 2020, a 19-year-old male leaped from the structure’s sixth level and instantly passed away; the media characterized this as the Vessel’s first such occurrence. On the 22nd of December, 2020, a 24-year-old female died after jumping from the structure’s roof. On the 11th of January, 2021, a 21-year-old male leaped from the Hudson Yards Vessel, resulting in the third fatality. After the third fatality, it was shut down indefinitely while the company sought advice from specialists on how to avoid future suicides. Residents in the adjacent areas contacted a suicide prevention specialist, who recommended installing netting or elevating the glass barriers, but no improvements were implemented.

It reopened at the end of May 2021, however, all visitors had to be escorted by at least one other individual. Tickets for the first hour of the day were free, as were tickets for children aged five and younger, and after the first hour of each day, any visitors above the age of five had to pay a $10 admission fee.

Ticket revenues were planned to directly support the financing of any additional safety improvements. On the 29th of July, 2021, just a couple of months after the Vessel structure reopened, a 14-year-old boy leaped to his death while visiting the structure with his family. It was once again closed indefinitely after the fourth fatality. Stephen Ross stated at the time that he was contemplating permanently closing the Hudson Yard Vessel. Hudson Yards authorities were erecting safety nets around the site by August 2022, in anticipation of the Vessel structure’s eventual reopening.


Critical Reception of the Vessel Structure

The Vessel structure has elicited both praise and criticism since it was first constructed. Some reviewers described it as “Manhattan’s equivalent of the Eiffel Tower”, while others said that it reminded them of an M. C. Escher drawing. Heatherwick stated on the Vessel structure’s design process, “We had to consider what may serve as a landmark. Something that could contribute to the space’s uniqueness and identity”. The New York Times writer Ted Loos said the artwork, although a “stairway to nowhere” in the functional sense, acted as an “exclamation point” to the High Line’s northern terminus, and another said that it served as a bold addition to the cityscape.

The Vessel in New York The Hudson Yards Featuring the Vessel Structure (2019); Ajay Suresh from New York, NY, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Other writers were not so kind with their reviews of the Vessel in New York. Michael Kimmelman from the New York Times was particularly scathing, calling the structure “gaudy” and also criticizing the whole Hudson Yards for being more of a gated community than an actual public space. Others have gone as far as calling it an “eyesore” and a “piece of junk” which is both “contrived and wilful”. Others have compared it negatively with the aesthetic of other structures such as the ultra-sleek and smooth appearance of Millenium Park’s Cloud Gate.


The Vessel in New York was designed to be a sculpture that could also be climbed – a honey-comb-like edifice comprised of interlinked staircases. The plans were first unveiled to the public in 2016, and construction followed the next year. Opened to the public in 2019, it rises 16 stories into the air and contains around 2,500 stairs. Despite its impressive size, it has faced much criticism since its opening, as well as challenges and setbacks, such as the four tragic deaths of teenagers and young adults who chose the structure as the place to end their lives. It has since been closed to the public and safety nets have been installed.




Frequently Asked Questions


What Is the Hudson Yards Vessel?

The Vessel is a public monument in New York City’s Hudson Yards. Visitors can ascend to the top of the 16-story building in the style of a staircase for vistas of the Hudson River and the surrounding neighborhood. The Vessel was created as a unique form of public space, with the objective of offering tourists a high vantage from which to appreciate the incredible view of New York City. It became a famous tourist site once it opened to the general public in 2019. It looks almost like a honey-comb in its design and comprises interconnected staircases that ascend to numerous levels from which to view the city.


Why Was the Hudson Yards Vessel Built?

The Vessel in New York is a sculptural staircase and a towering new monument that is designed to serve as a focal point for people to come and experience diverse viewpoints of the city from various heights, angles, and vantage points. Views of the city, river, and beyond can be observed from one of the many platforms. The structure’s distinctive design was meant to make it stick out like an all-year Christmas tree. The intention was for guests to ascend the structure like a jungle gym. The Vessel structure is part of a larger complex known as Hudson Yards. It was constructed as part of a redevelopment project for the area. It consists of public spaces, shopping complexes, hotels, office towers, and residential buildings. It was designed to be a cultural and business hub, as well as for entertainment.


What Criticisms Did the Vessel Structure Receive?

The Vessel was criticized for its huge price tag, which was covered by taxpayers. The Vessel was criticized for its limited accessibility, since only a certain number of people are permitted to ascend to the top each day, and tickets are necessary. It was also criticized for being inaccessible to those with wheelchairs. Many criticized the Vessel’s design, saying it was unimaginative and lacked innovation. The Vessel’s position in Hudson Yards has resulted in more foot traffic and overcrowding, raising criticism of the potential impact on the neighborhood. Some detractors have claimed that the Vessel does not provide adequate public facilities for guests to enjoy, such as seats or shade. One of the biggest concerns, however, has been regarding the safety concerns of the structure. Four people have used the structure to commit suicide by leaping from it. This has resulted in the indefinite closure of the structure.


Cite this Article

Justin, van Huyssteen, “The Vessel in New York – The Hudson Yards Vessel History.” Art in Context. April 27, 2023. URL:

van Huyssteen, J. (2023, 27 April). The Vessel in New York – The Hudson Yards Vessel History. Art in Context.

van Huyssteen, Justin. “The Vessel in New York – The Hudson Yards Vessel History.” Art in Context, April 27, 2023.

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