On January 12, the Vessel in Hudson Yards, Manhattan was closed to visitors indefinitely, after a 21-year-old man jumped to his death the day before. ABC7 reported that it was the third suicide at the 150-foot structure in the last year. The Vessel will remain shuttered as officials figure out ways to prevent further casualties.
The police had identified the deceased as Franklin Washington, a man from San Antonio, Texas, The New York Times reported. Washington’s death followed that of a 24-year-old Brooklyn woman, who took her own life at the Vessel just weeks prior, on December 21. The first suicide at the Hudson Yards landmark occurred last February by a 21-year-old man from New Jersey.
A Hudson Yards employee who witnessed the tragedy was greatly distressed by what he saw.
“I couldn’t sleep last night,” he told the press the day after the incident, under the condition of anonymity. The worker had also witnessed the suicide in December.
Lowell Kern, chairman of a local community board, said that the board believes that increasing the barrier height on the Vessel’s staircases would be the most sensible and effective safety precaution.
“Because the Vessel’s chest-high barrier is all that separates the platform from the edge, the likelihood of a similar, terribly sad loss of life cannot be ignored,” Kern wrote in a letter.
A representative for the Hudson Yards developer, Related Companies, said that they are collaborating with suicide-prevention experts and psychiatrists to devise better safety measures. Another spokesperson said the observation structure will remain closed to the public “until further notice.”
Kern said that Related Companies will propose its safety plan to the board before re-opening the Vessel.
But to some, the precarious — now, proven deadly — architecture of the Vessel is not news.
In 2016, three years before the Vessel’s debut, Audrey Wachs had anticipated the structure’s pitfalls in The Architect’s Newspaper: “As one climbs up Vessel, the railings stay just above waist height all the way up to the structure’s top, but when you build high, folks will jump.”
Last Friday, Wachs grimly reaffirmed her prediction in an article in Curbed, also condemning the Vessel’s “one-note program” whose design favours able-bodied attendees and does little to accommodate those with mobility limitations (the elevator services only three walkways).
“As the recent fatalities have unfortunately demonstrated, a severely distressed person with decent upper body strength can clear the chest-high railings with ease,” she said about the Vessel’s current barriers, arguing that the designers had privileged marketability over safety.
“The most straightforward harm-prevention tactic — raising the barriers above eye level — may have saved lives, but it also would have obstructed the view, the Vessel’s key selling point.”
Kern likewise argued that aesthetics should not supersede the safety of visitors.
“After three suicides, at what point does the artistic vision take a back seat to safety?”
The Vessel, a $25 billion tourist magnet, was designed by Thomas Heatherwick and Heatherwick Studio. It was envisioned to be an “interactive artwork,” enabling visitors to ascend 154 interconnected staircases to a remarkable view of the city.
The Vessel is also the largest mixed-use private development in US history, according to The New York Times. Wachs said that this intermediate position as a private building that doubles as a public facility contributed to its safety failings.
“Since the Vessel isn’t a building per se, and because Hudson Yards — even its open spaces — is private property, Related wasn’t obligated to trot out the concept for concerned neighbours, advocacy groups, and others who could have provided feedback on safety and access during design development.”
The New York Times reported that in the wake of the pandemic, the once-flourishing tourist attraction has been deserted for months.
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