Vessel Reopening Brings Back Painful Memory for Family of Past Suicide Victim

There were four suicides at The Vessel in Hudson Yards before real estate developer decided to close it. Now Related Company plans to reopen it with new safety measures. One family member of a suicide victim is hopeful it will prevent more painful deaths but wonders why the developer never spoke to the families who lost loved ones.

| 15 Apr 2024 | 09:34

Shilpa Kulkarni is glad the owners of The Vessel are at last installing safety measures to prevent suicides on the idiosyncratic structure. But why, oh, why, she asks, could they not have done it sooner, before her son, Shiv, took his own life there.

The Vessel was meant to be the inspiring centerpiece of Hudson Yards, a New York rival to the Eiffel Tower, drawing awe and tourist dollars. But even before it was built, and several times after, there were warnings that its open design of spiraling stairways to nowhere were an invitation to those with suicidal impulses.

Shiv, 14 years old, was the last of four young people to die there, in July of 2021. The owners, Related Companies, have kept the Vessel closed since, debating how or even whether to ever reopen.

On April 12, they announced the structure would reopen with new steel safety mesh installed to block anyone from jumping.

“The only saving grace is if they are taking safety measures before opening then there will not be any further losses at the site,” said Kulkarni, who along with two other families who lost children at the site have been pleading with Related to speak with them.

“I Wish they would acknowledge our beautiful children and their lives. At least my son made sure they are doing the right thing from safety perspective.”

Related said it had worked closely with the designer of the Vessel, Thomas Heatherwick and Heatherwick studios on a solution. “We have developed a plan to install floor-to-ceiling steel mesh on Vessel while also preserving the unique experience that has drawn millions of visitors from around the globe,” said a spokesperson, Kathleen Corless, “We look forward to welcoming visitors back to Vessel later this year.”

She said the steel mesh must be anchored at top and bottom, so it can’t be installed on the uppermost deck, 150 feet in the air, which will remain closed.

The mesh is strong enough to withstand the elements or any attempt to breach it, the spokeswoman said, “while not compromising Vessel’s iconic form or views.” No date for reopening was announced nor was there any word on whether the admission charge of $10 would remain. An earlier rule to prevent suicides by requiring visitors to enter in pairs, at a minimum, will not be continued.

A feeling of too late, and possibly too little, permeated the reaction. “Ensuring the safety of all visitors to Vessel—and the surrounding area – should always have been the priority above all else,” the chair of Community Board 4, Jessica Chait told the W42ST blog.

The Community Board has been a leading critic of the structure and called repeatedly for measures to solve the problem of the low stairway railings that were easy to climb over. In 2016, when the structure was just a proposal, Audrey Wachs, an architectural writer, had warned it would be unsafe.

“As one climbs up Vessel, the railings stay just above waist height all the way up the structure’s top, but when you build high, folks will jump.”

In February, 2020, just months after Vessel opened, Peter DeSalvo III, a college student, did just that. But Related kept the Vessel open and three further suicides followed–Yocheved Gourarie, a nursing student from Brooklyn; Franklin Washington, 21, wanted for questioning by Texas Police; and lastly Shiv Kulkarni.

Just a year ago, the DeSalvo, Gourarie and Kulkarni families made a concerted appeal through Straus News for Related to speak to them. The company never responded.

Shilpa Kulkarni said she learned of Related’s plan to reopen the structure from a reporter and from the former head of Community Board 4, Lowell Kern, who had been an outspoken critic of the structure and of what he deemed Related’s inadequate response to the situation.

“They told me the details on what Related are planning,” Kulkarni said.

“But I have not heard from Related either about this or before at all. It’s quite saddening that they would actually not try to reach out, out of humanity even. I guess we shouldn’t expect anything from the people for whom clearly money and their name is way more important than basic courtesy or empathy. Our loss has no meaning to them.”