The Queen’s StepWell (Rani-ki-Vav), Patan, Gujerat, India, late 11th century.
Among the things to remark about India is her sacralization of many of the relationships – familial and communal – of the lives of her people.
(a double-edged sword I hasten to add, for all of us who have struggled with the onerous personal responsibilities enforced by cultures where the communal and the clan take precedence over the individual.
A sacralization played out in artistic and artisanal work and rituals, sometimes magnificent.
This stepwell (vav in Gujerati and baoli in Hindi) is a water conservation system. It was designed as an inverted temple to designate the sanctity of water.
Water is sacred. The site, a gathering place for a large section of the community, was not.
This structure is the material expression not only of the sanctity of water but also of the importance of the community’s participation in its use and conservation.
The Queen’s Stepwell was designated a UNESCO heritage site in 2014.
The words below are UNESCO’s.
The photos I took in 2010. The reflected light off this stone on a brilliant day was golden as is the memory.
“Rani-ki-Vav, on the banks of the Saraswati River, was initially built as a memorial to a king in the 11th century AD.
“Stepwells are a distinctive form of subterranean water resource and storage systems on the Indian subcontinent, and have been constructed since the 3rd millennium BC.
“They evolved over time from what was basically a pit in sandy soil towards elaborate multi-story works of art and architecture.
“Rani-ki-Vav was built at the height of craftsmens’ ability in stepwell construction and the Maru-Gurjara architectural style, reflecting mastery of this complex technique and great beauty of detail and proportions.
“……it is divided into seven levels of stairs with sculptural panels of high artistic quality;
“The fourth level is the deepest and leads into a rectangular tank…” (now dry)
“More than five hundred principal sculptures and over a thousand minor ones combine religious, mythological and secular imagery, often referencing literary works…….
“The figurative motifs and sculptures, and the proportion of filled and empty spaces, provide the stepwell’s interior with its unique aesthetic character.”
The compliment which vice pays to virtue is hypocrisy
The Vessel, Hudson Yards, New York
All photos from the net
Hudson Yards is a development on the west side of lower Manhattan. It is the eastern half of the old rail yards. This is the last large piece of undeveloped land in Manhattan. The western half awaits development
It is the largest mixed-use private real estate venture in American history. It was opened in early 2019.
It comprises eight structures and a six-acre plaza and green space.
Four very tall office buildings, a hotel, a luxury seven story shopping mall and a semi-gated condominium development.
The city and state provided significant tax incentives and billions of public dollars in new and renovated infrastructure. And the city built an arts center, the Shed, at a cost of $500 million.
The anchor of the public plaza and garden of almost five acres is the Vessel which sits in the center of it.
The Vessel was designed by the British architect, Thomas Heatherwick, at a cost of $200 million.
It is situated at one end of one of the most successful conversions to public access of defunct infrastructure: the High Line.
This greenway, whose plantings were designed by the holistic master gardener and landscapist, Piet Oudolf, covers an elevated spur of the old New York Railroad. Now it stretches from the Vessel to the Whitney Museum of (North) American Art.
The High Line, NY, July 2015
Thomas Heatherwick has pointed to three sources for his design of the Vessel: the stepwells of India; the climbing frame found at gyms; and a childhood memory of a broken staircase.
The Vessel’s name is a reference not only to its shape but also to the water-collection and conservation function of stepwells.
Looking out of the high-end store, Nieman Marcus
It is 15 stories high, weighs 600 tons and has 2,500 steps. It has 154 interconnecting staircases and 80 viewing landings.
The Vessel offers nowhere to sit. There is one elevator that provides rides to a platform at the top but to no other level.
Not only has the company which operates the Vessel taken to itself the right to use “any photos or recording created by visitors for any purpose whatsoever in any…media,” but the the company that oversaw development of Hudson Yards collects fulsome data on all visitors.
There is no purpose to this structure –Stairway to Nowhere is one of its nicknames – other than its experience and the panoramic views from the top.
You pay for the experience.
It stands, with the entire development of Hudson Yards, as an example of the taking of public land for private gain.
And of the imbalance between private interest and public benefit which may result.
Hudson Yards is now and already the second most expensive quarter in Manhattan to inhabit.
View from the top
The Vessel is an example of the delusion by which a very few people – here Stephen Ross, the developer of Hudson Yards – can be the facilitator of a “transformational, monumental” – his words – experience for us, the hoi polloi. It was he who had sole say over the Vessel’s existence and design.
We pay for this experience.
He is our well-paid high priest and general poobah for this venture.
The Vessel is a compliment in form but not in substance – necessarily symbolic because this is not about water – to the stepwells of India.
It has no relationship except propinquity to the much trafficked and popular and free High Line which is both a pathway and a meeting and loitering and resting place.
Adults and children building with white Lego at the invitation of the architect, Olafur Eliasson, in an open ‘square’ of the High Line. Surrounded by building cranes for real. Summer 2015
The Vessel is an evacuation of the possibility of creating, expressing, experiencing, celebrating any part of the rich potential of our communal lives
in favour of empty, glittering form and a momentary wow! worthy of a billion selfies destined for oblivion in meaningless companionship in the dark half-life of the Valhalla of cyberspace which awaits them.
In January 2021, the Vessel was closed to public access after the third suicide had occured there.
It was reopened in May 2021: the security staff was tripled; an entry fee of $10 was charged each person above 5 after the first hour; each person has had to be accompanied by at least one other person; exploration of the interior structure was banned and notices about help in the event of suicidal feelings were posted.
For reasons unknown, however, the height of the barriers was not raised.
On July 29, 2021, the Vessel was closed again when a boy of 14 threw himself from the 8th floor; and died. He was with his family.