Thomas Heatherwick, whose planned Garden bridge in London is under investigation, has designed audacious Vessel sculpture for public plaza

A controversial British designer is behind an audacious $150m public art structure nicknamed the Stairway to Nowhere planned for a new multi-billion dollar commercial development on New York Citys west side.

Thomas Heatherwicks design of a giant, free-standing collection of multi-level staircases that will give the public fresh views of the city was unveiled in New York on Wednesday and is currently under construction in Italy.

But the choice of Heatherwick for the project is likely to raise eyebrows in Britain, since he is the designer behind the planned Garden bridge over the Thames in London that is under investigation for its use of public money and projections that it would need a taxpayer bailout once operational.

However, the private company behind the New York project said on Thursday, that it was not concerned that there will be cost overruns on a large scale for the staircase piece, even though the cost has already doubled from the original estimate of $75m, according to the New York Times.

Heatherwicks new piece is officially called Vessel and will incorporate 2,500 stairs in a bold, basket-shaped structure standing within a new plaza with trees, paths and flowerbeds, surrounded by skyscrapers.

Thomas
Thomas Heatherwick, the designer of the Vessel sculpture, visits Hudson Yards in New York on Wednesday. Photograph: Mark Lennihan/AP

The new landmark is intended to be a stunning spectacle of public art while also being entirely accessible to the public, including an elevator to the top, which is expected to be 15 storeys high.

Vessel will be positioned close to the Hudson river on the west side of Manhattan in Hudson Yards, a fast-developing former industrial semi-wasteland where new office buildings and luxury apartment blocks are now springing up.

Hudson Yards surrounds the uptown end of the enormously popular High Line park that was built on a disused elevated railway line and, since opening in 2009, has held a magnetic attraction for New Yorkers and tourists alike to the neglected area north of the trendy Meatpacking District and Chelsea neighborhoods.

Renderings of Heatherwicks Vessel were revealed by private US developer Related Companies and its founder, billionaire Stephen Ross, who is behind the Hudson Yards development and is backing the art project.

Londons proposed Garden bridge, a pedestrian link to be planted with flowers and greenery and span the river from Temple to the South Bank, was proposed by Heatherwick and others and became a pet project of Boris Johnson when he was the London mayor.

But it was announced in June that the National Audit Office is investigating the use of public funds to support the bridge project.

And in July, a London-based consulting firm predicted that official estimates of future donations to allow the bridge to operate at a profit were overly optimistic and the business plan for the project was exceptionally weak.

London mayor Sadiq Khan halted some of the existing spending on the project, ahead of a review.

Heatherwick had previously attracted both acclaim and controversy for his Olympic flame at the 2012 games in London.

The spectacular cauldron of copper petals that rose up to form a flaming flower at the climax of the opening ceremony was hailed as one of the most original in the history of the Olympics.

But a New York design firm, Atopia, claimed that they had submitted a remarkably similar idea to games organisers years before, and sued in 2013.

The organisers of the London Olympics settled out of court with Atopia in 2014, although there was no admission of liability and Heatherwick maintained that the design process was categorically that of he and his team from start to finish.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/15/thomas-heatherwick-hudson-yards-vessel-sculpture

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