A Vessel of Unification
With my scarlet notebook clenched tightly by my bicep against my right rib cage, I have just finished my climb up approximately 100 interweaving steps to the top of Vessel. A $200 million structure that acts as the sculptural centerpiece of the Hudson Yards Public Square, Vessel is a complex 80 landing, 154 staircase, 2,500 step creation enveloped in copper-cladded steel created by British designer Thomas Heatherwick. I am perfectly centered within the Hudson Yards Public Square, which, according to the New York Times’ Michael Kimmelman, is “the largest mixed-use private real estate venture in American history.”
The temperature is 33 degrees. Due to the moderate-to-high gusts of wind howling through the air, the wind chill is 25 degrees. The open skies above me are aesthetically pleasing, but my fingers quiver as I begin to regret not bringing a pair of gloves. Unmelted snow lies at the foot of the railing, which I attempt to indent with the roughest point of my Blundstone boots as I approach the edge. With my finger pressed against the middle of my Moleskine glasses to prevent them from falling to their doom, I poke my head over the bronze barrier and am stunned. My perspective atop this “giant shawarma” shaped formation grants me a sublime view of Midtown, the Empire State Building, and the Hudson River.
To my right is Midtown. A monstrous skyscraper impedes my line-of-sight; I follow its outline up with my finger, noting how it gets progressively smaller as I get closer to its top. The building thickens as I follow it all the way back down and make out the name of the building, the Equinox, where I can see people staring back at me from the inside, mocking me. Out loud, I count the floors from the bottom, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8” — and see on the 8th floor, an outdoor pool which in all likelihood will not be used for several months due to the wintry New York weather. On the 9th floor is a gym with four stationary bikes against the window, all in use by tenants who are pushing their bodies to unknown maximums.
To my left, opposing the Equinox skyscraper, resides another tower, smaller than the first. A fully symmetrical building, both sides jut inward every several floors. It is an Ohm Rentals apartment building with an enormous advertisement that piques my attention. The boring pun it employs, “There’s No Place Like Ohm,” makes me shiver, not from the weather, rather in disgust. To avoid paying the advertisement more attention, I turn 90 degrees to my left, to face the inside of Vessel.
The complexity of Vessel is mesmerizing from this perspective; shining, hexagon-shaped structures form collectively to create a honeycomb-like formation that mimics in intricacy the double-helix structure of DNA. My sweeping view allows me to see almost all of the 154 staircases and eager tourists trekking up and down its steps. Directly across from my position is a middle-aged man bending over backward, spine curved over the railing, attempting to capture the perfect selfie. I spot two young boys racing up the stairs, one hopping over two steps at a time — both parties anticipating victory, I can feel their excitement accumulating as they speed through each staircase.
Behind several glowing hexagons is a seven-story luxury shopping center where I can see luxury stores such as Lululemon, Neiman Marcus, Louis Vitton and Sephora, as well as more economical stores such as Zara and H&M. The variety of stores offered within the mall is a calculated strategy to appeal to as many people as possible, not to a single demographic.
I see the top of the Empire State Building as I cast my eyes farther up. The iconic edifice’s 1,454-foot peak is almost ten times taller than Vessel. As its neon-yellow lights get close to the tower’s sharp spire, they are replaced with subsequent bright red, white and blue hues, sparking a sense of patriotism within me. Although the Empire State Building is dazzling, it is a hazy image due to smoke emerging from a chimney on the mall’s roof.
Turning around, I gaze straight ahead at a panoramic view of the Hudson River, which begins and ends with the presence of the aforementioned skyscrapers on each side. The Hudson draws a line between New York City and Jersey City. Vivid images of Sully — the 2017 movie starring Tom Hanks about the plane that made an emergency landing in the Hudson — flood my mind. These thoughts increase steadily as I watch vehicles traverse along and above the vast turquoise water.
Two jet boats, one blue and the other white, enter from my right and race across the Hudson until the latter pulls off to its right, admitting defeat. A black-and-yellow helicopter lands on an overhang by the end of the river. A fishing boat passes by, its expanse thronged with partygoers and decorated for the holiday season, lime-green lights at its bottom and pineapple-yellow lights through the middle of its hull.
My eyes still glued to the Hudson’s transparent surface, I wonder why it is named “The Hudson River.” According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, native tribes originally named the Hudson Mahicantuck, or “river that flows two ways.” This name “highlights the fact that this waterway is more than a river — it is a tidal estuary, an arm of the sea where salty sea water meets fresh water running off the land.” As England tried to justify its takeover of the region in the 17th century, the government named it “Hudson” after Henry Hudson, who captained a Dutch ship up the river in 1609.
Finally, I pull away from the railing to glance at the people around me. I can hear a woman behind me speaking French, a Persian family speaking Farsi and three Orthodox Jews to my right speaking Hebrew. The coalescence of these cultures highlights Heatherwick’s point of “bringing people together” and gives evidence of the “melting pot” which exemplifies the diversity of New York City.
Thomas Heatherwick described the concept for his Vessel as something “participatory.” “The idea was that everybody would just come in and climb it, be able to propose marriage up here, or run up and down, do whatever they want,” Heatherwick says. He asks rhetorically, “Could you make something amazing that people can touch and use, instead of things they just look at and clap their hands and admire?” Heatherwick’s criteria included ensuring that his masterpiece would be something that everyone could enjoy; in considering tourists’ enjoyment, the variety of stores offered, and the diversity of the site’s attendees, Heatherwick accomplishes this task. Vessel is a vehicle for unification in an increasingly divided society.
Photo Caption: Pixabay
Photo Credit: Vessel