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Real estate giant Related Companies has announced that Vessel, British designer Thomas Heatherwick’s honey-combed, copper-colored installation at Hudson Yards, will reopen this year with enhanced safety measures. The 150-foot-tall steel structure, composed of 16 levels of interlocking flights of stairs, was shuttered nearly three years ago following a series of headline-grabbing tragedies—and subsequent closures and reopenings—in which four people took their own lives by jumping from the popular Manhattan attraction. According to a Related representative, the re-habilitation of Vessel, overseen by the developer in coordination with London-based Heatherwick Studio, will enclose most of the structure’s 16 stories with floor-to-ceiling steel mesh, “preserving the unique experience that has drawn millions of visitors from around the globe.” The top, open-air level will remain closed to visitors.

Vessel Hudson Yards

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Conceived as the centerpiece of Hudson Yards’ 5-acre public plaza, Vessel opened in March 2019. Though receiving plenty of blowback from critics and New Yorkers at large, the not-so-affectionately nicknamed “Shawarma” was an immediate tourist magnet, drawing thousands of visitors a day eager to ascend the 154 flights of stairs for panoramic views of the Hudson River and the rising cluster of towers that make up the larger mega-development. Initial criticism primarily centered around the project’s bloated $200 million price tag, conceptual emptiness, and the questionable publicness of the heavily-subsidized luxury development that it anchors, but safety experts and neighborhood residents raised concerns about the structure’s inadequate safety railings, which reach just above waist-height.  

Occurring within an 18-month timespan, all the Vessel-related suicides involved people under the age of 25. In February 2020, a 19-year-old man from New Jersey leapt from the 6th level of the structure. Two more suicides, involving a 24-year-old woman and a 21-year-old man, occurred less than a year later, just three weeks apart. Related Companies indefinitely closed the structure following the third death, saying in a statement that it, with Heatherwick Studio, was consulting with “suicide-prevention experts” about enhancing safety. 

The West Manhattan area’s community board had appealed to the developer after the first death to reconsider the design and implement higher barriers, to no avail. “After three suicides, at what point does the artistic vision take a back seat to safety?” board chairman Lowell D. Kern told The New York Times in January 2021.

Related reopened Vessel in May 2021, making no structural changes but implementing a new rule that banned solo visitors. The company also imposed a $10 admission fee (entrance to Vessel was previously free) and stated that ticket revenue would be dedicated to funding additional safety measures. Two months later, a 14-year-old boy jumped from the towering sculpture and was pronounced dead at the scene. “We thought we did everything that would really prevent this,” Related chairman Stephen M. Ross, the driving force behind both Hudson Yards and Vessel, told The Daily Beast the following day, and indicated that the company might shutter the unfortunate attraction for good.

‘We’re distraught about the news of last week’s tragedy,” Heatherwick Studio said in a statement at the same time, adding that the studio had explored design solutions to increase safety but needed to conduct “further rigorous tests” to decide on one that was “feasible in terms of engineering and installation.” An anonymous employee of the firm, speaking to The New York Timesplaced much of the blame on the developer, saying, “We designed safety barriers for the Vessel a while back. It’s now time to install these.”

Vessel Hudson Yards

Photo © Scootercaster, via Shutterstock

In the years since, the empty Vessel has faced an uncertain future, withstanding calls for its dismantlement or reuse. Although plans for its resurrection are finally in motion, Related has not announced an installation timeline or official reopening date. “We look forward to welcoming visitors back to Vessel later this year,” said a company representative.