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The Vessel, NYC’s 21st c. Tragic Icon and Suicide Prevention: What Can Be Done?

The monumental structure is a major tourist attraction but unfortunately, it has also been fatal for too many looking to end their lives

by Sofia Zamboli

The Vessel, New York City. (wikimedia/Epicgenius)

The Vessel, designed by Thomas Heatherwick, opened to the New York public in March of 2019. This structure is the first of its kind, with its unique honey-comb shape. Since its opening, the building has become one of the most Instagrammable spots in New York and on any day, you can see a slew of images all over social media platforms. What originally seemed like an exciting architectural feat and new tourist attraction for NYC has quickly turned into something completely different. Since the Vessel’s opening two years ago, four suicides have taken place on-site, the most recent one taking place on July 29.

The Vessel. Photo: Wikipedia

Several weeks ago, a fourteen year-old boy tragically jumped to his death from the top of the Vessel while on a family tour of the site. This took place after new restrictions had been implemented since the previous suicide, which took place in January. At that time, when the site was closed, considerations were made as to what should be done in order to safely reopen the Vessel. These restrictions included an admission price of $10 to enter, placing suicide prevention signs around the structure, and accompaniment from staff members when wandering around the Vessel. These security additions were surely a step in the right direction, but they were clearly still not enough to dissuade some people from taking their own lives at the Vessel.

While it may appear that the makers of the Vessel have ignored the most obvious possibility, that of raising the barriers, in reality this was and still is a consideration. Suicide specialists were hired to advise Related Company during the reopening process on the measures that they could take. The specialists implored them to raise the barriers a few feet. They affirmed that this could be a life-saving update to the structure. Nevertheless, the response from Related Companies, the firm which built the Vessel, was a firm no, because according to them, it would obstruct the view of the Hudson River, the attraction’s main pull.

A view from The Vessel. Photo: Wikipedia

Unfortunately, this proved to be literally, a deadly decision as the next suicide occurred shortly after the attraction reopened to the public. It’s worth noting that the barriers that currently stand on the Vessel are glass, so that even if the barriers were to extend an extra six to eight feet it would not truly impact the view of the Hudson. Installing safety netting at the bottom of the structure is also a possibility.

Now the Vessel is indefinitely closed again and in the meantime Stephen Ross, the Vessel’s billionaire developer, is considering closing the structure permanently. Architects Cathleen McGuian and Justin Davidson have even called for the building’s destruction, saying its image has been tainted by the four suicides that have taken place there.

Since its opening the Vessel has been heavily criticized from a design perspective as well, with numerous commenters pointing out that it’s empty and leads to nowhere. Furthermore, there may be a cage-like sense of purposelessness experienced at the Vessel, especially for those dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts. For others, the Vessel is a bronze symbol of prosperity and the future of design in the city. A remarketing of the Vessel is a possibility, and a name change may be in the works, with the hopes of reimagining what the Vessel stands for. A website was created in order for the public to decide a new name for the structure; possibly something more positive and uplifting.

In the meantime, the public is in the dark as to what is going to happen in the future. The yellow caution tape remains surrounding the iconic New York structure and at this moment all we can do is wait and see.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1- 800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.

 

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