Hudson Yards, the self-proclaimed “largest private real-estate development in North America” (maybe the world!), has been on my list of urban must-sees. How convenient for it to have opened one week before I arrive with the hottest ticket in town: a reservation to climb ‘Vessel’ – the public-art centrepiece.
Whatever you call Heatherwick Studio’s Vessel—the wastebasket, the egg-crate, the Escher-brought-to-life, the basketball net, the Great Doner Kebab—it is the opposite of those examples. Not temporary, not cuddly, not delicate. It looks just like its renderings except possibly more perfect.
I had mentally assigned it an outer cladding of weathering steel; with everything else so smooth and shiny, surely Vessel would have an industrial flavor? But no—Heatherwick Studio leaned into the fractal nature of its design, and the cladding, copper-colored steel, has a mirror finish like Anish Kapoor’s Bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park, welcoming our irresistible impulse to selfie. As we assembled on the plaza below it, the underside of the upper tiers crisply reflected us as ants in bright orange safety vests.
The comment above is from Alexandra Lange, the architecture critic for Curbed. Unlike the New York Times review of Hudson Yards, which was snarky and dismissive, Lange provides some good insights on the nature of such megaprojects (worth comparing to our own undertakings in the last two decades, as well as in Toronto). Here are excerpts from here review: At Hudson Yards, the future isn’t now.
For all the talk of Hudson Yards as being the first North American smart city, it doesn’t feel like the future, except for perhaps the video screens that advertise, offer touchscreen wayfinding, ticketing, and—surprise!—enclose cameras that watch your every move. The majority of innovations called out on the press packet sheet labeled “Engineered City” are largely under the hood: A constant stream of inputs monitored by “operations managers” will allow Hudson Yards, the sentient being, “to monitor and react to traffic patterns, air quality, power demands, temperature and pedestrian flow to create the most efficiently navigated and environmentally attuned neighborhood in New York.”
Think of it as the next generation of contested public space. This is also—ahem—the promise of the platform at the highly contested Sidewalk Toronto, where traffic, wind, and winter will be overcome through the collection of data. …
We always knew it would be like this, because this is what you get when you let a private developer make a neighborhood—there’s no room for weirdness. … It is an explicitly rich person’s neighborhood on the edge of an island that tilts ever forward into being 100 percent rich person’s neighborhood. You really don’t have to go there if you don’t work there and, as I joked last year on Twitter, the whole thing could detach and float down the Hudson and it wouldn’t change a thing in my life. Farewell, great ocean liner of lawyers, fine dining, and fancy gyms! …
After the official tour I wandered back through the retail building with Cross, traversing the lobbies of 10 Hudson Yards and 30 Hudson Yards. He pointed out the future location of a tunnel to the 7 at the north end, and a potential hallway and elevated bridge that would cross 10th Avenue, through Brookfield’s Manhattan West, and connect to Moynihan Station. Finally, I felt a little bit excited. New routes! …
These are the sort of urban dérives—a term coined by philosopher Guy Debord to describe the joys of allowing oneself to drift from through the city in unplanned ways—that Vessel and, in fact, the entire development attempt to commodify and contain. How many blocks will you be able to traverse indoors? What places will now seem close that once seemed far? When the High Line opened, it created a whole new sense of proximity along the West Side. We’ve absorbed that shock to the system now, but maybe it can be startled again? Could these paths be beyond the reach of those elegantly be-cameraed kiosks? I want something to discover myself, something off the responsive digital map—something better than going around and around and always seeing another grid.