There are lots of criticisms of the new development at Hudson Yards in New York City, and they mostly seem like correct criticisms to me, but there is one aspect that has gone largely uncriticized. People were upset about learning that if you enter the Vessel, the shiny 16-story open-staircase structure in the middle of things, you were supposed to forfeit all rights to your likeness and to any pictures you may take there. That is a horrifying abuse of the idea of public space and of intellectual property rights, but also why is a 16-story open-staircase structure being presented as an attractive addition to the city scene? The mall development there is anathema to traditional New York street life and it may be subsidized in a way that cannibalizes the already embattled storefront retail of the city, but also the mall appears to be built around a long open drop down a central atrium, set off by nothing but waist-high glass, with pedestrian walkways going right across it, shielded again by nothing but glass.
Then there is the viewing deck, “the highest outdoor deck in the Western Hemisphere,” which is literally called “The Edge”:
Go out of the building and walk 65 feet straight out into the sky on the highest public balcony in New York.
Go take in the iconic skyline like never before, in full panorama—with dramatic sunsets to the west.
Go forth and stand on the large glass floor, gasping as you impossibly look straight down at the bustling neighborhood 1,100 feet below.
Go further and lean out over Manhattan, literally, on the nine-foot wall of boldly angled glass—if you dare.
Even for a high-rise observatory, this seems gratuitous, like the builders were working out some compulsion. It is possible to provide a view of the city from a great height without filling it with design tricks specifically created to saw away at the nerves of people who don’t like heights.
I know the whole definition of a phobia is that it’s an irrational response and not something that the average person experiences, but even intellectually—apart from the howling terror in the limbic system—I don’t get why people are building whole systems of things like this, to be unusable for acrophobes. I am personally fine with spiders and bugs, but it would be weird to me if the architects of a multibillion-dollar multipurpose commercial development decided their design theme was to have lots of big spiders and bugs crawling around everywhere. Even if the spiders and bugs were behind glass. It would be unwelcoming.