This warning turned out to be tragically premonitory. Last week, a 14-year-old teenager committed suicide in the climbing structure – the fourth such fatal incident since the monument opened to the public in March 2019.

“We are heartbroken by this tragedy and our hearts go out to the family of the young man who lost his life,” Hudson Yards spokeswoman Kimberly Winston said in a statement. “We are conducting a full investigation. The ship is currently closed.”

Now, the future of the ship as the Instagrammable centerpiece of Manhattan’s largest development from Rockefeller Center is in limbo. Can he be saved?

Its backers will certainly try. Heatherwick Studio, which designed the ship, said in a statement it was working with Related Companies, the real estate company run by billionaire Stephen M. Ross, to find “physical” solutions to the problem.

“Working with our partners at Related, the team comprehensively explored physical solutions that would increase security and require more rigorous testing. installation, ”said the studio spokesperson.

Raising the barriers several feet higher would be one such solution. Indeed, physical barriers or nets have long been used to try to prevent such tragedies in high standing structures. The Golden Gate Bridge in California, where more than a thousand people have committed suicide over the years, installs netting to minimize fatal injuries; the George Washington Bridge did something similar several years ago.

Scaffolding used to install a suicide net is seen on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in 2019.

Yet adding a simple physical barrier or net only solves part of the ship’s problem.

The central point of architecture and design is that the built environment influences the way we feel and act. And the ship – surrounded on all sides by concrete skyscrapers, glass and crass commercialism – has a more fundamental problem, according to Jacob Alspector, a prominent lecturer at the Spitzer School of Architecture at City College of New York.

“The ship is like an MC Escher nightmare,” he said, referring to the famous graphic designer known for his stairs to nowhere. “It’s a little relentless. It’s very garish, it’s very cold. It’s exciting… It’s not the most convivial and the most inclusive and the most inclusive type of space or structure. C ‘is a little empty. What is it for? Just walk up and down? “

He added, “People who feel alienated from the world may not be very well supported by an experience like this.”

How architects and designers are trying to prevent suicides

Alspector knows this challenge firsthand.

Over a decade ago, he oversaw renovations to New York University’s Bobst Library, less than two miles from where the ship is, which had a similar problem.

In 2003, two students jumped to their deaths in the open atrium of the library. The school then installed an 8-foot-high plexiglass barrier to prevent such incidents, but another student managed to cross that barrier and jump to his death in 2009. NYU wanted to fix the problem once and for all.

The solution, launched in 2012, was the Bobst pixel sail – a series of laser-cut aluminum panels that closed off the space but also allowed sunlight to shine through an intricate pattern.

“It’s an example of making something positive rather than a barrier thing,” Alspector told CNN. “The trick is to transform something to make it look like you’re not in a cage.”

Perforated aluminum screens rise up in the atrium of the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library at New York University.

Wachs, the reporter who warned of the ship in 2016, specifically cited the library deaths as an example of what could go wrong. Stephen Ross and Heatherwick, she wrote at the time, “seem not to have learned from Bobst, or the city’s bridges and iconic tall buildings.”

Toronto’s Bloor Viaduct provides another relevant example of a possible solution. Hundreds of people having committed suicide on the viaduct, local leaders commissioned in 2003 the installation of the Shining Veil, a barrier made up of thin steel rods that also light up in bright colors.

“It is conceived at the same time as a means of dissuasion with the suicide, and like a field of kinesthetic reflection”, according to RVTR architecture and design platform.
The luminous veil, seen here in 2004, forms a physical barrier to the Bloor Street Viaduct in Toronto.

Dr Mark Sinyor, psychiatrist and suicide prevention expert at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center, studied the impact of the barrier in 2010 and again in 2017 and found an unusual result.

As expected, the Shining Veil performed as intended and ended the suicides at the Bloor Viaduct. However, the 2010 study found that in the first few years after the barrier was installed, the death rate per jump across Toronto remained unchanged, suggesting that suicides have simply shifted elsewhere. However, the A 2017 study found that in the long run, suicide by jump had declined citywide with no associated increase in suicide by other means.

“When you limit people’s access to lethal methods, you see fewer deaths in an area,” Sinyor said. “This is because suicidal people can eventually find other ways to cope if at the moment a means of death is not readily available.”

Taken together, the studies show that suicide prevention is more than just a barrier in one place, Sinyor told CNN. In particular, he criticized the media coverage of the time which pushed the nefarious myth that suicidal people are not worth saving.

“The lesson from the Bloor Viaduct is that a suicide prevention barrier is a component of an effective suicide prevention program, but must be coupled with safe public messages,” Sinyor said.

“Suicide must never happen,” he added. “It’s preventable. And those in difficulty should seek help, because help is there. “

The ship has a deeper problem

Safe public messaging was a key part of the ship’s plan when it reopened in May with new security measures. Rather than making physical changes, the ship charged an entry fee of $ 10, made people come with another person, hired staff and security guards to monitor the distress, and installed signs telling visitors how to get help.
The tragedy of the last week showed the flaw in this plan without physical barriers. The 14-year-old victim was with his family when he died, authorities said CNN affiliate WCBS.

Lowell Kern, president of the Manhattan Community Board Four, told CNN that raising the height of the barriers was the “obvious” solution.

“There is no reason to have a 4 foot tall barrier that is easy for someone to cross, either on impulse or on a planned basis. In terms of aesthetics, it seems to me that it is. an easy fix, ”he said.

Linked companies failed to do so, however – and fatal incidents since have confirmed his worst fears. “I have never been so unhappy to be right,” he said.

A higher barrier is not always necessary for a raised platform. For example, the Guggenheim Museum also has an open space with a low barrier, but there has never been a suicide there.

“I think it’s because the space is so beautiful, so magical, so affirming, so wonderful,” said Alspector, the architect and teacher. “I don’t know if I have heard anyone describe the ship as beautiful.”

He said he was skeptical that an 8-foot-high barrier to the ship would be sufficient given it was ineffective at the NYU library. Rather, he suggested a continuous, closed barrier.

“I would urge it to be something human, life affirming, not like a prison, not necessarily like a fish bowl,” he said. “It’s a difficult design problem.”

Editor’s Note: If you or a loved one has considered killing yourself, call National lifeline for suicide prevention at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK at 741741. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Friendships around the world also provide contact details for crisis centers around the world.