Today, Manhattan’s new $25 billion development, Hudson Yards, will pull the veil back from its $200 million central art piece, a collection of 2,500 Italian-made bronze- and steel-encased steps. The New York Times declared it the city’s biggest Rorschach test. It’s been likened to a monstrous beehive or M.C. Escher’s impossible staircase, and its famous creator, Thomas Heatherwick, has even touted its utility as an adult jungle gym for New York’s fanatical fitness types.
But for the food people flocking to the space today, it might look like something else: a colossal shawarma — New York’s first mile-high bronze-and-steel meat on a spit. Glance into the display windows of a place like King of Falafel and Shawarma, and you know what I’m talking about. This could be the city’s most publicized meat tower replica of all time. Indeed, the structure already has several promotional films dedicated to it.
The giant shawarma is what happens when a designer with his own Wikipedia page, renowned for thinking way outside the box, meets a developer who will bankroll something outlandish to make a mark. Yes, you could argue that commissioning a 150-foot-high vanity structure is outlandish. Landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and the 9/11 Memorial earned their status as points of interest. This one is predominantly a feat of ego, power, and wealth. (Incidentally, there are no restaurants dedicated to Middle Eastern food at Hudson Yards, which has been criticized for a food lineup that lacks diversity.)
Several restaurants within the Shops are already boasting views of the ballyhooed structure, including Wild Ink, Queensyard, and TAK Room. And developers are touting the piece as part of the cultural significance of the space. Are people excited about the art because it’s expensive? Because they’ll save on a gym membership? Or because somebody wrote a really good press release?
When it opens today, the structure — currently named Vessel, with free timed tickets to access it — will morph from a conversation starter to its new identity as an architectural fixture to be populated by hundreds of climbing civilians — all willing to wait in line to inhabit its mythical carapace for an unlimited time. And is anybody better off? At least I’ll get a chuckle staring at the $200 million meat triangle, lurking between buildings like something out of an American fantasy comedy film.