Vessel, a tourist attraction in New York City's Hudson Yards neighborhood, has been closed to visitors since a suicide on July 29.

After latest suicide, the Vessel in New York City's Hudson Yards ponders its future

Updated 2032 GMT (0432 HKT) August 7, 2021

(CNN)In a December 2016 article for The Architect's Newspaper, journalist Audrey Wachs noted a glaring issue with the Vessel, the 150-foot-tall tourist attraction that was set to open in New York City's gleaming new Hudson Yards neighborhood.

"As one climbs up Vessel, the railings stay just above waist height all the way up to the structure's top," she wrote, "but when you build high, folks will jump."
That warning has proved tragically prescient. Last week, a 14-year-old died by suicide at the climbable structure -- the fourth such fatal incident since the landmark opened to the public in March 2019.
"We are heartbroken by this tragedy and our thoughts are with the family of the young person who lost their life," Hudson Yards spokesperson Kimberly Winston said in a statement. "We are conducting a full investigation. The Vessel is currently closed."
It's the second time the Vessel has closed due to suicides. In January, after the third death, the Vessel closed for several months and reopened in May with new safety measures in place, including increased security, a buddy system and signs about mental health resources.
Now, the Vessel's future as the Instagrammable centerpiece of the largest development in Manhattan since Rockefeller Center is in limbo. Can it be saved?
A view inside the Vessel at Hudson Yards on March 15, 2019, in New York City.
Its corporate backers will certainly try. Heatherwick Studio, which designed the Vessel, said in a statement it was working with Related Companies, the real estate firm run by billionaire Stephen M. Ross, on finding "physical" solutions to the issue.
"Working with our partners at Related, the team exhaustively explored physical solutions that would increase safety and they require further rigorous tests, and while we have not identified one yet, we continue to work to identify a solution that is feasible in terms of engineering and installation," the studio's spokesperson said.
Raising the barriers several feet higher would be one such solution. Indeed, physical barriers or netting have long been used to try to prevent such tragedies at high-standing structures. The Golden Gate Bridge in California, where more than a thousand people have died by suicide over the years, is installing nets to minimize fatal injuries; the George Washington Bridge did something similar several years ago.
Scaffolding used for installing a suicide net is seen on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in 2019.
Still, adding a simple physical barrier or net addresses only part of the Vessel's problem.
The central point of architecture and design is that the constructed environment influences how we feel and act. And the Vessel -- surrounded on all sides by concrete, glass skyscrapers and crass commercialism -- has a more fundamental issue, according to Jacob Alspector, a distinguished lecturer at the Spitzer School of Architecture at The City College of New York.
"The Vessel is like some MC Escher nightmare," he said, referring to the famed graphic artist known for his staircases to nowhere. "It's kind of relentless. It's very gaudy, it's very cold. It's thrilling ... It's not the most friendly and life-affirming and inclusive kind of space or structure. It's kind of empty. What's the point of it? Just to walk up and walk down?"
He added: "People who feel alienated with the world may not be supported very well by an experience like that."

How architects and designers try to prevent suicides

Alspector knows this challenge firsthand.