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Plans for huge sculpture in New York public plaza unveiled

Posted September 14

— The developer behind a cluster of skyscrapers rising near the Hudson River raised eyebrows when he boasted the project would be anchored by a monumental sculpture that would be the city's Eiffel Tower.

After months of secrecy and speculation, plans for the work of public art were unveiled Wednesday. And while the price tag of the sculpture by British designer Thomas Heatherwick was a big-league $150 million, only time will tell whether New Yorkers embrace the 150-foot-tall (45.72-meter-tall) work of art, dubbed "Vessel."

The concrete and steel structure, which looks like an inverted honeycomb, will stand in a 5-acre public plaza in Manhattan. People will be able to climb it. The design has a latticework of 154 interconnected flights of stairs and 80 platforms and stands 50 feet (15.24 meters) across at the base and 150 feet (45.72 meters) wide at the top.

Developer Stephen Ross, of The Related Cos., wasn't backing off of his statements the sculpture could join the pantheon of great urban landmarks, Eiffel Tower included.

"That was the whole idea of what I had in my mind," he said. "What would create something that would be truly remarkable, that would be unique?"

Heatherwick, whose other projects include the cauldron for the 2012 Olympics in London, said the sculpture "is the ultimate seeing-each-other device," because people climbing it would be able to see others on other platforms and those below.

"We're thrilled and excited and amazed that the project's really happening," he said. "It's a very different kind of commission than we've ever worked on before."

The public square where "Vessel" will stand is planned as an outdoor venue for performances and art exhibits, with landscaping that includes 28,000 plants and trees. It's expected to be open to the public in 2018.

Heatherwick said construction of the components has begun in Italy.

The project, located near the northern terminus of another new landmark, the High Line elevated park, was met with enthusiasm from public art advocates.

"Over the course of the last decade, monumental public art installations have become part of New York City's celebrated cultural landscape," said Susan Freedman, president of the Public Art Fund, which puts on art exhibitions all over the city.

She said she's sure Heatherwick's piece "will become an instant landmark, capturing the imagination of people of all ages and backgrounds."

People sitting and walking along the High Line on Wednesday were mixed.

Victoria Kepler, who works in a building near where the sculpture would go, wasn't bowled over.

"I'm probably not going to go out in a courtyard to see steps," she said.

But Jimmi Blake, an associate planner for a fashion company, was much more impressed, saying she thinks it's "gorgeous."

"I love the shape of it," she said. "I love the fact that people can walk up and down."

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Follow Deepti Hajela at www.twitter.com/dhajela and read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/deepti-hajela

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