Vessel to Increase Accessibility

John Hill
24. December 2019
Photo: John Hill/World-Architects

Related Companies, co-developer of New York's Hudson Yards, has agreed to increase accessibility of the Vessel, the climbable sculpture designed by Heatherwick Studio with 154 interconnecting flights of stairs, 80 landings, and one elevator.

Since its opening in March 2019, visitors to the Vessel unable to climb the sculpture's many stairs have had limited accessibility to just three landings on the south side via a small lift. Once at those landings, with stairs on either side, they could only look around and then take the lift back down to plaza level.

Come January 31, 2019 -- the deadline given by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York -- disabled users will have access to the stairways and platforms at all of the top levels of the Vessel. By then, Related will need to install "a one-of-a-kind platform lift mechanism" that will allow people in wheelchairs to have the 360-degree views now enjoyed by others.

Photo: John Hill/World-Architects

The agreement announced by the Department of Justice on Monday says that since the Vessel is billed as a "public landmark" that "will lift the public up, offering a multitude of ways to engage with and experience New York, Hudson Yards and each other," and individuals with disabilities can only access 3 of 80 landings, the Vessel is "in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990." As opposed to making each landing accessible, adding a platform mechanism at the top landings will make the most desirable views enjoyable by all.

Although Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said, "We are pleased that Related has designed an innovative solution to increase accessibility to the Vessel," it remains to be seen what form that solution takes. Will it be made of off-the-shelf stair lifts, or will it be a custom mechanism in line with Thomas Heatherwick's design? Given the roughly $150 million price tag for Vessel, most likely it will be the latter.

Photo: John Hill/World-Architects

In the meantime, by March 2020, Related will need to allow the elevator to stop at two landings (5 and 7) it has not been stopping at, and "to operate the elevator on a pre-set, timed schedule, and to modify the Vessel’s ticketing reservation options to allow individuals with disabilities to reserve priority access to the elevator." 

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