The Vessel, the spiraling staircase at Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s Far West Side, was closed to visitors on Tuesday, a day after a 21-year-old man jumped to his death in the third suicide in less than a year.
It was unclear when the 150-foot structure, the vast development’s centerpiece, would reopen to the public. A spokesman for Related Companies, the developer of Hudson Yards, said that the structure was “temporarily closed” and that the firm was consulting with suicide-prevention experts, including psychiatrists, about how to limit the potential for more suicides.
But the chairman of the local community board said in an interview on Tuesday that a Related Companies representative had called him shortly after the suicide on Monday and had said the Vessel would stay closed “until further notice.”
The board chairman, Lowell Kern, also said the developer had indicated that it would present the preventive steps it planned to take to the board before reopening the sculpture to visitors.
The closing came as the police identified the man who killed himself on Monday morning as Franklin Washington of San Antonio. His death came weeks after a 24-year-old Brooklyn woman ended her life by leaping from the Vessel on Dec. 21.
A Hudson Yards employee who was at the site on Tuesday said he had witnessed the suicide on Monday as well as the one in December. The area was nearly deserted, with just a couple of tourists snapping photos in front of the Vessel and an empty SoulCycle tent set up nearby.
“I couldn’t sleep last night,” the man said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
The Vessel was designed by Thomas Heatherwick and Heatherwick Studio. The creators describe it as an interactive artwork with 154 interconnecting flights of stairs, almost 2,500 individual steps and 80 landings. Visitors are encouraged to climb it to experience the expansive views it offers of New York and the Hudson River.
The structure was considered a major tourist draw for Hudson Yards, a $25 billion project that is the largest mixed-use private development in U.S. history. After opening to great fanfare in 2019, the development now faces an uncertain future as a result of the pandemic’s effect on everything from tourism to office work. It has been largely empty for months.
Visitors and critics have raised concerns that the Vessel’s design could pose safety risks. Audrey Wachs, the former associate editor of The Architect’s Newspaper, wrote in a 2016 critique: “As one climbs up Vessel, the railings stay just above waist height all the way up to the structure’s top, but when you build high, folks will jump.”
The community board first contacted Related Companies about taking steps to prevent additional suicides at the structure last year after the first one.
“Because the Vessel’s chest-high barrier is all that separates the platform from the edge, the likelihood of a similar, terribly sad loss of life cannot be ignored,” Mr. Kern, the board chairman, wrote in a letter.
Mr. Kern said on Tuesday that the board continues to believe that the best way to stave off further suicide attempts is to increase the height of the barrier.
“That’s the only thing that’s going to work,” he said.
He added that he understood there was hesitation to alter what is considered a work of art, but that should not be a priority now: “After three suicides, at what point does the artistic vision take a back seat to safety?”
Among large outdoor structures, bridges have traditionally been magnets for people who decide death is their only option, and at least some bridges have added fencing and other barriers after studies showed that such measures could be effective.
In the New York area, the George Washington Bridge has typically attracted more suicide attempts than other bridges. From 2015 to 2017, there were 15 suicides a year at the bridge.
In 2017, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey moved to address the problem by installing an 11-foot-high fence that connected to a canopy of netting over a pedestrian walkway. Information was not immediately available on Tuesday about how effective the fencing had been.
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. Here’s what you can do when a loved one is severely depressed.