A Fourth Suicide Shuts Down the Vessel

John Hill
30. July 2021
The Vessel on opening day in March 2019. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)

On Thursday, July 29th, a 14-year-old boy jumped to his death — the fourth suicide since the climbable sculpture designed by Thomas Heatherwick opened in March 2019. The Vessel promptly closed and was immediately followed by renewed calls to install higher barriers.

This fourth suicide in approximately eighteen months comes after developer Stephen Ross implemented safety measures for the artistic centerpiece at Hudson Yards following the third suicide, which happened in January. The Vessel reopened in May with additional security, a "buddy" system requiring visitors to be in pairs or groups, primarily paid tickets, signs discouraging security, and staff training for signs of self-harm — everything but raising the waist-high glass railings at the 150 flights of stairs and 80 landings. The teenage boy was reportedly visiting the Vessel with four other members of his family.

Members of the local community board, which pushed for raising the barriers after the previous deaths, renewed the argument, telling the New York Times that "this was entirely preventable," and, "the only surefire way to prevent this from happening is to raise the height of the barriers on the Vessel."

The same report also includes a statement from an unnamed employee of Heatherwick Studio who said, "We designed safety barriers for the Vessel a while back. It’s now time to install these." The official statement from the studio clarified that the ideas for barriers "required further rigorous tests" in order to determine which one would be "feasible in terms of engineering and installation."

A closer view of the waist-high barriers in place on the Vessel, as seen in March 2019. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)

A more extreme alternative to barriers is permanently closing the Vessel and, even more drastically, demolishing it. A report at the Daily Beast on Thursday alludes to the possibility of the first, saying "the development’s marquee art installation might close for good following the latest suicide." Ross told the paper: "I want to see every possibility we can do. I mean, we thought we had covered everything." The Vessel will remain closed until Ross and Heatherwick determine if physical changes to the Vessel, as called for by so many people, will be implemented.

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