New York's next public landmark is a giant lattice made of 154 interconnected staircases that will anchor Hudson Yards, the mega development rapidly going up on the Far West Side.
The design was unveiled Wednesday at the site of the future five-acre public square and gardens, to the accompaniment of hammering and drilling all around. Created by British designer Thomas Heatherwick, 46, and provisionally dubbed “Vessel,” the work will feature 2,500 individual steps and 80 landings—a mile of pathways in total—cascading upward to a height of 16 stories.
The price tag: $150 million for the centerpiece and another $50 million for the landscaping by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, according to Stephen M. Ross, chairman of Related Companies, the developer of Hudson Yards.
"I like what I see,'' said Mayor Bill de Blasio at the unveiling ceremony, listing the design's openness and inclusiveness and referencing the public culture of his ancestral homeland, Italy. "Everyone gravitates to the piazza, and this will be one of the greatest public squares of New York City."
Heatherwick, whose studio designed the cauldron for the Olympic flame at the 2012 summer games in London, said the pressure to come up with an idea that would stand out among surrounding skyscrapers was enormous.
Instead of making a structure that would be just something to gawk at, his team wanted to create something that "everybody could use, touch, relate to,'' he said.
"What's behind us is as big as Trafalgar Square," he said, pointing in the direction of the cranes and steel frames of the buildings in process. The structure will be "a viewing gallery of all the spaces around us."
The $25 billion Hudson Yards project, which Related is co-developing with Canadian pension investor Oxford Properties Group, is being built mostly over Metropolitan Transportation Authority train yards that are located alongside the Hudson River. It has succeeded in just about filling two huge office skyscrapers—one of them recently completed—with such companies as Time Warner Inc., Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts, Coach Inc., and Wells Fargo & Co. A 1 million-square-foot mall will be anchored by New York's first Neiman Marcus store.
The inspiration for Vessel came from the images of Indian stepwells, which are made of hundreds of flights of stairs descending dramatically into the ground.
Heatherwick's stairwells are ascending instead. The structure could become the city's most extreme workout platform—or its biggest public artwork.
Handicapped people will be able to get to the top of the structure via an inclined glass elevator that was part of the design from the very beginning, Heatherwick said. Access to the elevator will be limited to people with disabilities, he said.
"My cousin is a wheelchair user, and I know that I may not always be so able-bodied," Heatherwick said. "The key to everything is to try to make it give love to the way you design those things."