A city for the rich, built poorly: The construction of Hudson Yards

In only a month after opening, New York’s most expensive private development is already falling apart.

If you look up from your phone camera for a second before you take a selfie of the Vessel, you’re bound to see something broken at Hudson Yards.

Misaligned cladding at the Shed Arts Center’s Bloomberg Building. | Taidgh Barron / Village Spoke

Hudson Yards bills itself as New York’s newest neighborhood, however it reflects many of the shortcomings of the city’s prior superblock development projects.

The original World Trade Center’s Austin J. Tobin Plaza was an enclosure of skyscrapers along the Hudson River, inadvertently creating a brutal wind tunnel. Hudson Yards is much the same.

Brooklyn’s MetroTech Center lacked a unified vision with its variety pack of 90s-fad architecture and is today largely unremarkable. Hudson Yards developer Related Companies took a similar approach, commissioning numerous so-called “starchitects” to build what New York Times Architecture critic Micheal Kimmelman describes as an “architectural petting zoo.

But Hudson Yards also appears to have created their own problems, particularly with the build quality of the development.

Take the Shed’s Bloomberg Building, for example:

Cladding damage and incomplete sealing at the Shed’s Bloomberg Building. | Taidgh Barron / Village Spoke
Haphazardly installed sealing a week after the Shed’s grand opening. | Taidgh Barron / Village Spoke
Damage on the wheels of the Shed’s retractable assembly. | Taidgh Barron / Village Spoke

These construction flaws are troubling considering the labor history of the development. Related twice sued the multi-union construction bloc building the complex and convinced the largest unions in the bloc to break ranks, and they won a judgment to use cheaper non-union labor.

A month before its grand opening, Hudson Yards appeared to face the prospect of a reporters, politicians and Big Bird from Sesame Street crossing a picket line to attend its ribbon cutting. But Related’s President Bruce Beale Jr. was able to avoid such a picture by cutting a deal with the weakened construction unions to end their weekly pickets and rallies in exchange for using some union labor during the second phase of the development.

Despite the deal, Hudson Yards’ labor history appears etched in the quality of its craftsmanship.

Hudson Yards’ website calls the Public Square and Gardens area of the complex “the smartest park ever built” and an “engineering marvel,” but the Public Square is lined with broken pavers and questionable construction.

Broken and cracking pavers outside the Vessel. | Taidgh Barron / Village Spoke
Overextended saw cuts and cracked pavers in Hudson Yard’s plaza. | Taidgh Barron / Village Spoke
Missing and misaligned pavers outside The Shops at Hudson Yards. | Taidgh Barron / Village Spoke
Pavers at the Public Square and Gardens of Hudson Yards. | Taidgh Barron / Village Spoke

During the unveiling of the Public Square’s design in 2016, Related Chairman Stephen Ross took inspiration from another New York superblock development, Rockefeller Center.

“The most important place in New York is Rockefeller Center during Christmas time, I wanted to have a 12-month Christmas tree” Mr. Ross said.

And thus, Vessel was commissioned to serve as a “vessel” to attract tourists to the West-side campus and vertical retail luxury mall that looks like any other global city mall.

But even Hudson Yards’ crown jewel has misaligned cladding adorning its entrance.

The visitor’s entrance to The Vessel, with misaligned cladding over the portal. | Taidgh Barron / Village Spoke

The lack of attention to detail extends beyond the quality of construction work, too.

Throughout the entire complex, glaring lapses in design stand out, such as six inch gaps between railings at the mall and staircases eight times wider than the walkways they lead to.

Unsafe railing gaps inside the Shops and Restaurants at Hudson Yards. | Taidgh Barron / Village Spoke
Step off the three foot wide walkway onto the rocks, even if to get to the staircase, and a security guard will shoo you away. | Taidgh Barron / Village Spoke

You get the distinct sense that you’re walking through a computer rendering rather than a real place. Aesthetic is prioritized over function everywhere you go.

In the Shops and Restaurants at Hudson Yards, escalators are not positioned to allow a seamless flow up and down the levels of the mall, but rather, to make the complex photogenic; often requiring you to search at each level for the next escalator down in order to exit.

On busy weekends it’s common to see tourists eating while sitting on the floor outside luxury retail chains because the food court lacks tables and seating.

It’s easy to get the feeling that the faceplates of brand-new signs popping off their fixtures were simply pixel-off details unnoticeable in a 100:1 scale virtual world. | Taidgh Barron / Village Spoke

While Mr. Kimmelman in the New York Times calls Hudson Yards “a spectacle” where “the peak ambitions of city life were consuming luxury goods and enjoying a smooth, seductive, mindless materialism,” saying it’s a place designed for a smooth experience is a stretch.

I have a different way to wording it:

Hudson Yards is designed to be a place where the peak ambitions of city life are to purchase something and vanish…

That is, if you can find your way out.

The Village Spoke reached out to Hudson Yards for comment but they declined to return our calls and emails.

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