You Complete Me: Architects Discuss Hudson Yards’ Interactivity

The Shed, with the copper-clad interactive Vessel to its right. | Photo by Winnie McCroy

BY WINNIE McCROY | On the morning of June 22, the architects behind the development of Manhattan’s newest neighborhood came together on the 24th floor of 10 Hudson Yards.

They discussed how they designed their part of the 28-acre project to work together with the other elements, despite the fact that for most of the panelists, it was the first time meeting each other in person.

“We modeled our buildings after Rockefeller Center, which was once called ‘a mountain range of steel and glass rising on the west,’” noted Bill Pederson of Kohn Pederson Fox Associates, which designed 10, 30, and 55 Hudson Yards. “The [other] buildings are likened to mastodons, swizzle sticks, and a pineapple. But these tall buildings are like people at a cocktail party; they have the responsibility not to stand in a corner by themselves, but to gesture and talk to each other. My buildings are designed so that everything gestures toward 34th Street, via the atrium we created.”

Joseph Giovannini convened a panel of architects including Pederson; Liz Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, David Rockwell of the Rockwell Group, Thomas Woltz of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, Thomas Heatherwick of Heatherwick Studio, David Manfredi of Elkus Manfredi Architects, and Kenneth Lewis of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

Directly behind 10 Hudson Yards sits The Shed, Hudson Yards’ entertainment complex. Diller quipped this megastructure is a “huge mastodon of a building that actually moves,” referring to the retractable roof. She recalled its origins back in 2008 when the original request for proposal (RFP) was released, calling for a cultural parcel adjacent to the High Line.

“We decided to think of what New York doesn’t have: a purpose-built institution for visual and performing arts under one roof,” Diller said. “We wanted to be responsive to contemporary artists and the future of the arts by creating a flexible infrastructure that can change shape and adapt to the projects inside and out.”The Shed is able to serve any type of performance by creating any atmosphere, from daylight to blackout curtains. It can be configured into many different art spaces, or be conformed to accommodate a single, huge art event. The building cover moves “with the horsepower of one Prius engine,” Diller said of its retractable nature. She also collaborated with architects of 15 Hudson Yards, aka the “swizzle sticks,” a residential tower whose basement fulfills the back of house functions for The Shed.

At left, 30 Hudson Yards, with Vessel (aka the “pineapple”) in the foreground | Photo by Winnie McCroy

The Pineapple
To the north of The Shed sits the “pineapple” shape that is Vessel, an interactive vertical plaza designed by Heatherwick, constructed in Italy and transported to the site on a series of barges floated up the Hudson River. Heatherwick had a plaza about the size of London’s Trafalgar Square to work with, but wanted to keep his creation dynamic.

“Sometimes the danger is that you go too big to get the energy going,” Heatherwick said. “I wanted to make a landmark and avoid that ‘turd in the plaza’ factor. It’s easy to stand back and wonder why someone put a sculpture somewhere. I thought it would be better to build something that creates a chemistry between you and others. If there’s a city that’s intense, it’s New York. It can take something intense like this.”

Noting that presenting a vertical atrium comprised of 154 flights of interconnected stairs seemed to be the right way to create chemistry in a free piece of public art space. A sloping elevator affords those in wheelchairs “one of the best views in the place,” Heatherwick said, adding, “I put love into this and presented it for approval, and it’s astonishing that this project actually happened. I hope people will enjoy climbing the 16 stories.”

Woltz was charged with landscaping the area around the “pineapple.” He had to be mindful that he was creating not only the area surrounding Vessel, but a front lawn for the many people who will call this neighborhood home.

“I have a client with a strong vision of the well-being of the humans visiting this space, and how we flow with other personalities,” said Woltz. “I created a 21st century mandala. As the Vessel takes shape, it will lead you in ellipses to the other buildings.”

The idea for the landscape hearkens back to the area’s origins: a low, wet meadow that sloped down west toward the river. Back in 1908, when the mile-long tunnel was dredged through the river to New Jersey, people compared the endeavor to the creation of the Suez Canal. Now, these buildings sit on a huge platform atop of this tunnel. Woltz will landscape the area with all-natural materials, plus 200 trees, ferns, flowering perennials, and 4.5 acres of native granite, to avoid overpopulating every available space.

Moderator Joseph Giovannini, Bill Pederson, Liz Diller and David Rockwell. | Photo by Winnie McCroy

A Square and Circle Come Together
Working with Related to construct 35 Hudson Yards, the area’s largest residential tower, was no easy matter, said Lewis of Skidmore, Owens & Merrill. His firm pitched one idea after the other, only to be told they hadn’t gone far enough. They ended up with a mixed-use building that meshed a square and circle together, using one main building material for uniformity. The challenge, said related, was to make that material stone.

“We looked for a stone that had warmth to it for these residential setbacks; something that would look good on the facade and pull it together,” Lewis said. “We made the stone flat at the bottom, and then going up into fins. It reads different from where you stand; you can see the limestone better from up high.”

In what Pederson called “elephants dancing,” the architecture of the mostly residential 35 Hudson Yards (which also houses an Equinox, some office space and ground-floor retail), steps to the side for 30 Hudson Yards, the area’s primary office tower. The entire structure is set atop the Eastern Rail Yards platform, which ranges from 18 inches to seven feet thick. The building has no basement, but large fans installed above the tracks will help the building breathe and remove exhaust from the trains.

The interior of The Shops and Restaurants at Hudson Yards, designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects | Photo by Winnie McCroy

A Marriage of Retail and Technology
Charged with creating a million square feet of retail space, Manfredi of Elkus Manfredi Architects is smack dab in the middle of crafting what will become one of the area’s biggest shopping destinations, The Shops and Restaurants at Hudson Yards.

“This will be two and a half times bigger than Time Warner Center,” Manfredi said. “It is a revolution, the marriage of retail and technology, with an abundance of dining and retail options. The challenge is to create a social space. Because we can all shop from home, but what we yearn is a social connection.”

Manfredi is looking at the retail component of Hudson Yards as a vertical network for bringing people together for an organic mix of uses. He is envisioning the shopping arcades as two sides of a busy New York street that are not at all the same, each with unique offerings.

“There will be open space in the atrium, bringing shoppers back to an oasis in the center,” Manfredi said. “It will have none of the traditional thinking on where the stores and restaurants go. They will not be clustered together or predictable; the design is intended for you to make the connections.”

Neiman Marcus will anchor the top of The Shops and Restaurants at Hudson Yards, and terraces will allow people to get a different view and change their perception of Hudson Yards.

This panel was the first chance many of these architects had to discuss how their buildings interact, and many shared their thoughts. Lewis said that 35 Hudson Yards moves to its side, toward the water. Pederson said that he initially thought Heatherwick’s Vessel was “jarring,” but lauded him for the courage to having, “the audacity to make something no one has ever seen before.”

Said Heatherwick, “The Vessel gestures to the atrium, and it’s pineapple-shaped because I wanted to pull its bum in, to allow for more space in the plaza. It can take hurricanes, cold, or heat. It’s a very participatory building. You are not in there to buy anything, you’re just there to act on your curiosity in this Escher-esque space.”

The buildings of Hudson Yards, including The Shed, will open through 2019. Phase 2 of Hudson Yards, over the Western Rail Yards, will continue through 2024.

A worker climbs the side of The Shed, the “mastodon” of Hudson Yards. | Photo by Winnie McCroy

34 Hudson Yards, with a reflection of 15 Hudson Yards (aka the “swizzle sticks”). | Photo by Winnie McCroy

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