Architecture critics seem to detest the Vessel and Hudson Yards. The Vessel is the new, large, shiny, ascendable, public artwork in Hudson Yards. But Hudson Yards is a massive, multi-skyscraper development by Related Companies on Manhattan’s West Side, built atop the railroad tracks that serve Penn Station.

Hudson Yards inspired critics to sharpen their invective. New York Times’ Michael Kimmelman called the masterplan “a supersized suburban-style office park, with a shopping mall and a quasi-gated condo community targeted at the 0.1 percent.” He and others have blasted the billions of dollars of tax breaks New York City gave to developers, much of it from EB-5 funds intended for economically distressed neighborhoods. Others, such as Curbed’s Alexandra Lange, have noted the privatization of public space, and the project’s mega-block planning which obliterates the street grid and human scale.

All valid points. (Although the imposed new grid is better than the multi-acre dead zone it replaced). I would add that Hudson Yards’ glitzy shopping mall is a turn-off, with out-of-reach retailers such as Fendi, and a pay-to-enter selfie installation called Snark Park. ($28. WTF?)

But why such venom for the Vessel? Kimmelman called the Thomas Heatherwick-designed installation “a 150-foot-high, $200 million, latticed, waste-basket-shaped stairway to nowhere, sheathed in a gaudy, copper-cladded steel.” (He also deemed the whole enterprise “neo-liberal.” The ultimate insult among “woke” critics!)

New York magazine’s Justin Davidson also called the Vessel “a staircase to nowhere.” (Did Davidson crib from Kimmelman?) Kate Wager in The Baffler called The Vessel “an experience of menial physical labor that aims to achieve the nebulous goal of attaining slightly different views of the city.”

Wagner’s headline is “Fuck the Vessel.” She is the creator of the hilarious blog, McMansion Hell.

But the many people I saw enjoying the Vessel on a recent visit proved them wrong. They scampered this way and that, up and down, reaching the top levels to gaze across the Hudson, and peer to the bottom center of the artwork. They were engaged. They got exercise. They took selfies. They marveled at their copper reflections, and the hypnotic, ever-shifting honeycomb patterns. They didn’t pay a nickel.

By the evidence, this stairway to nowhere is fun, not disgusting. Maybe my experience was (paradoxically) heightened by the drizzly weather which limited the crowds. There was no queue on the Friday afternoon I was there, which made scaling the Vessel feel open, creative and spontaneous. Or maybe critics let their overall opposition to Hudson Yards color their view of the Vessel. That’s their loss.

Photos & video by Jack Skelley.

Jack Skelley

Author: Jack Skelley

Jack Skelley is president of JSPR, specializing in “urbanology” — architects, designers, builders and cities.
He is an award-winning writer/editor with over 25 years of experience from Harper’s magazine to The Atlantic to Form magazine to Los Angeles Times, and is former Executive Editor and Associate Publisher of Los Angeles Downtown News.
He serves on the Advisory Board of Urban Land Institute Los Angeles and is a long-time contributor to Urban Land magazine
He is also a musician, including guitarist and songwriter in the psychedelic surf band, Lawndale.