New York City is nothing if not a shrine to the power of architecture. With iconic landmarks at nearly every corner of the city, the role for any architect to create a new space comes with a high level of pressure and expectation. And that pressure multiplies when the space will be used by the public. In New York, basic requirements for those structures are to serve a functional purpose while inspiring the masses that walk past it every day.
Recent examples include Thomas Heatherwick’s Vessel, a $150 million sculptural staircase that, when finished, will be in the middle of Hudson Yards, or the red staircase in the middle of Times Square, to name a few. Starting in 2014, when the project was announced, New York was to have yet another specular public space in the coming years: a tree-filled oasis called Pier 55 on the Hudson River that would be supported by stilts and appear like a floating island. As of yesterday, however, that dream is no longer.
It was reported by the New York Times that billionaire businessman Barry Diller has officially pulled his financial support for the Thomas Heatherwick-designed pier, effectively killing the project. The issues with the ambitious project were both financial concerns followed by years of legal woes. Not only was the $250 million price tag far higher than the initial $35 million estimate, but several civic groups fought to have the project sink. By mainly citing environmental concerns, as well as labeling the pier as a place designed for the rich rather than ordinary people, the torrent of complaints eventually became too heavy for Diller to bear any longer. In an interview with the Times, Diller stated that “the huge escalating costs and the fact it would have been a continuing controversy over the next three years” ultimately made him decide to pull out of the project.
The news marks the second Heatherwick-designed structure to publicly be withdrawn before construction began. The first occurred earlier this year in London, as the city’s mayor Sadiq Khan withdraw his support for a plant-filled Garden Bridge that would cross the Themes River. Khan voiced concern over the $250 million price tag, stating that the structure was an outlandish vanity project.
Madelyn Wils, the president of the Hudson River Park Trust, released this statement regarding Diller’s decision: “We are deeply saddened by this news—not simply because this would’ve been one of the world’s greatest piers, but because this was a project the community so resoundingly wanted, and that millions would one day enjoy. Instead, it was thwarted by a small handful of people who decided they knew better.”