New York sculpture Vessel faces calls for closure after fourth jump death

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Hudson Yards development in midtown Manhattan is facing calls to dismantle the Vessel, its huge sculptural centrepiece, after a fourth person in less than two years jumped from the 150ft structure.

Related: 'We never thought it would happen': Thomas Heatherwick's $200m gamble

A 14-year-old boy was the latest fatality, on Thursday. His death came two months after the staircase reopened following two suicides earlier this year, with a series of measures meant to lower such risk.

The Vessel has proved controversial. When it opened in 2019, one critic likened the honeycomb structure, designed by the Briton Thomas Heatherwick, to an enormous kebab. Some locals called it a “staircase to nowhere”.

This week, the Curbed website said simply: “It’s time to dismantle the Vessel.”

Admission to the structure was initially free but after a third suicide, Related Companies, the company that controls Hudson yards, imposed a $10 entrance fee and a rule requiring that visitors do not climb the structure alone.

“That only made the horror worse, because the boy who jumped yesterday did so in front of his family,” Curbed reported this week. Despite the Vessel’s popularity on Instagram, the site said, it has become “famous largely as a place of death”.

The first suicide at the Vessel happened in February last year. It was closed in January after two people killed themselves in the space of a month. It reopened in May.

The operating company did not raise its chest-high barriers before reopening, as community leaders and suicide-prevention researchers had requested.

Lowell Kern, chairman of community board 4, a local government body, told the New York Times he called for such design changes after the first suicide.

“I’m very sad,” he said. “This was entirely preventable.”

Kern added: “The community board has advised Related that the only surefire way to prevent this from happening is to raise the height of the barriers on the Vessel. We are dealing with life-and-death issues. Art and architecture have to take a back seat.”

The Hudson Yards developer, Stephen Ross, told the Daily Beast the installation might close for good.

“I want to see every possibility we can do,” Ross said. “I mean, we thought we had covered everything.”

Related: Horror on the Hudson: New York's $25bn architectural fiasco

A spokeswoman for Hudson Yards said an investigation was being conducted.

“We are heartbroken by this tragedy and our thoughts are with the family of the young person who lost their life,” the spokeswoman said.

Heatherwick Studio said it was “distraught” and told the Times it had explored ideas to improve safety. Those ideas “required further rigorous tests”, it said, adding that it had yet to decide on what would be “feasible in terms of engineering and installation”.

  • In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In the UK the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.