Stairway to nowhere in N.Y.

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Rendering of “The Vessel” in Hudson Yards. (Forbes Massie/Heatherwick Studio)

Above is “The Vessel,” so-called. Jim Kunstler has selected it for October’s Eyesore of the Month, on his website. “The Vessel” is designed by Thomas Heatherwick, the British architect who specializes in the ridiculous. It is apparently an attempt to mimic M.C. Escher in the middle of Manhattan’s Hudson Yards project. Those are actually stairs, by the way, not escalators. What is it for? Does it look as if it is designed to collapse? Is it a superduper stairclimber for the West Side? Will there be a monthly gym fee for its use? Will anyone else climb to the top besides the kids likeliest to fall off? Or will it be, as Kunstler thinks, a sort of “loathers’ leap” for those caught in the coils of the next housing bubble pfft? Use the link to go see what the coiner of the word “crudscape” and the author of The Geography of Nowhere has to say about this perfectly typical work of modern architecture.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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5 Responses to Stairway to nowhere in N.Y.

  1. ericritter65 says:

    Hi David, I got your message and if I remember, the “they” I referred to is the people of NYC – more ugly buildings for an ugly city.

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    • New York and London are cities that are similar in that their ugliness is self-imposed. Both have large swaths of surviving loveliness but not enough to erase the depressing feeling you can get. But both cities are fascinating regardless, so one can try to forget their flaws. At least London can blame much of the worst of its appearance on the Luftwaffe for excavating sites that needed quick filling.

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  2. David Rau says:

    David, I usually empathize with your criticism. Here, I think you are wrong. “The Heatherwick,” as Paul Goldberg has taken to calling it, is no more or less ugly than the Eiffel Tower – which is to say it’s not, just maybe misunderstood. I think when we first hear how Eiffel’s proposal was ridiculed for its preposterous scale and outrageous shape, we somehow can’t imagine that Parisian didn’t love it from the get go. But it quickly grew to become a beloved national icon (surely you love it, too, yes?). I think The Heatherwick actually does us a service by creating something with at least a modicum of interest and detail camouflaging an otherwise vapid environment of bland modernist towers. Could it use some more hand-wrought detailing? Yes. But the idea and its form seems entirely legitimate and even exciting (not unlike like the Highline, another adored urban amenity that initially met with harsh criticism). On the other hand, the surrounding buildings of Hudson Yards do deserve your (and Kunstler’s) criticism for their moronic shapes and skins.

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    • Actually, David, I didn’t say it is ugly but stupid. It is both. The comparison with the Eiffel Tower is not quite appropriate. (I am entirely familiar with how many famous novelists ate lunch there so they wouldn’t have to look at it.) The Eiffel Tower originally shocked because it was so unlike the rest of Paris, even though it was highly ornamented in its ironwork. The Heatherwick is too much like the modern architecture that surrounds it – unappealing and seemingly dangerous structurally. I will admit that it is interesting, unlike so much that is designed these days. It may find its audience, and perhaps quite swiftly considering the low bar offered by competitors, but that does not mean it is good architecture.

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  3. Pingback: “Vessel” and Gaillard Center | Architecture Here and There

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