The biggest real estate development in US history will have a puzzling centerpiece

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The design for Hudson Yards' massive, interactive public centerpiece, which had previously been kept secret, was unveiled September 14.

The structure — part interconnected stairway, part tower, part art piece — will stand in the heart of the development's outdoor public space. Called Vessel, it is currently being referred to as a 'public landmark' by Hudson Yards developer Related Companies. And though that description may sound vague, it's justified the design defies classification.

Hudson Yards, the biggest private real estate project in American history, is currently under construction on the far west side of midtown Manhattan. The $20 billion project will include residential, retail and office space and span a whopping 28 acres.

See photos of construction at Hudson Yards:

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Hudson Yards construction
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Hudson Yards construction

View of the walls around the Hudson Yards construction site, Manhattan, New York, New York, April 26, 2013. The Yards are a 15-structure mini-city built on Manhattan's West Side built on platforms over the John D. Caemmerer West Side Yard and bounded by 30th St., Tenth Ave. 33rd St., and the West Side Highway. 

Photo credit: Getty

A model of the future HudsonYards Project is displayed during the announcement of the winning bid by TishmanSpeyer at the Hudson Rail Yards on March 26, 2008 in New York City. 

Photo credit: Getty

Joseph Moinian, chief executive officer of Moinian Group, stands for a photograph at the company's 3 Hudson Boulevard construction site in New York, U.S., on Monday, April 25, 2016. A construction surge is transforming a decaying industrial expanse known as Hudson Yards -- from about 25th to 42nd streets, west of Eighth Avenue and stretching toward the Hudson River -- into a glittering enclave thats expanding the borders of New Yorks office districts and drawing some prestigious firms away from the traditional core of Midtown. 

Photo credit: Getty

Cranes stand at construction sites in the Hudson Yards neighborhood of New York, U.S., on Monday, April 25, 2016. A construction surge is transforming a decaying industrial expanse known as Hudson Yards -- from about 25th to 42nd streets, west of Eighth Avenue and stretching toward the Hudson River -- into a glittering enclave thats expanding the borders of New Yorks office districts and drawing some prestigious firms away from the traditional core of Midtown.

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Joseph Moinian, chief executive officer of Moinian Group, left, and his son Mitchell Moinian, senior vice president of Moinian Group, enter the company's 3 Hudson Boulevard construction site in New York, U.S., on Monday, April 25, 2016. A construction surge is transforming a decaying industrial expanse known as Hudson Yards -- from about 25th to 42nd streets, west of Eighth Avenue and stretching toward the Hudson River -- into a glittering enclave thats expanding the borders of New Yorks office districts and drawing some prestigious firms away from the traditional core of Midtown. 

Photo credit: Getty

People walk through Hudson Park in New York, U.S., on Monday, April 25, 2016. A construction surge is transforming a decaying industrial expanse known as Hudson Yards -- from about 25th to 42nd streets, west of Eighth Avenue and stretching toward the Hudson River -- into a glittering enclave thats expanding the borders of New Yorks office districts and drawing some prestigious firms away from the traditional core of Midtown. 

Photo credit: Getty

Construction cranes stand in the Hudson Yards neighborhood of New York, U.S., on Monday, April 25, 2016. A construction surge is transforming a decaying industrial expanse known as Hudson Yards -- from about 25th to 42nd streets, west of Eighth Avenue and stretching toward the Hudson River -- into a glittering enclave thats expanding the borders of New Yorks office districts and drawing some prestigious firms away from the traditional core of Midtown. 

Photo credit: Getty

Construction cranes stand in the Hudson Yards neighborhood of New York, U.S., on Monday, April 25, 2016. A construction surge is transforming a decaying industrial expanse known as Hudson Yards -- from about 25th to 42nd streets, west of Eighth Avenue and stretching toward the Hudson River -- into a glittering enclave thats expanding the borders of New Yorks office districts and drawing some prestigious firms away from the traditional core of Midtown. 

Photo credit: Getty

Pedestrians walk along the High Line as 10 Hudson Yards stands after a topping out ceremony in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. The topping out of 10 Hudson Yards, a major milestone for the new neighborhood and New York City, was marked with the raising of the last batch of concrete to the top of the building and a lunchtime celebration with thousands of construction workers.

Photo credit: Getty

A building stands under construction past the silhouette of a construction worker before the start of a topping out ceremony at 10 Hudson Yards in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. The topping out of 10 Hudson Yards, a major milestone for the new neighborhood and New York City, was marked with the raising of the last batch of concrete to the top of the building and a lunchtime celebration with thousands of construction workers. 

Photo credit: Getty

A contractor works at 10 Hudson Yards before the start of a topping out ceremony in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. The topping out of 10 Hudson Yards, a major milestone for the new neighborhood and New York City, was marked with the raising of the last batch of concrete to the top of the building and a lunchtime celebration with thousands of construction workers. 

Photo credit: Getty

10 Hudson Yards, left, stands under construction in New York, U.S., on Thursday, May 7, 2015. Tenants that have already committed to the new developments on Mahattan's west side include Time Warner Inc. and Coach Inc. 

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A train moves on the West Side Yard underneath construction for the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project in New York, U.S., on Thursday, May 7, 2015. Tenants that have already committed to the new developments on Mahattan's west side include Time Warner Inc. and Coach Inc. 

Photo credit: Getty

In this March 4, 2016 photo, cranes move loads of materials at dusk at the Hudson Yards construction site in New York. The steel behemoths are sprouting up all over the city, a prime force in New York's building boom capped by a sea of skyscrapers that are changing the famed urban skyline. 

Photo credit: AP

Nighttime view of Hudson Yards construction site, Manhattan, New York, New York, April 17, 2013. The Yards are a 15-structure mini-city built on Manhattan's West Side built on platforms over the John D. Caemmerer West Side Yard and bounded by 30th St., Tenth Ave. 33rd St., and the West Side Highway. 

Photo credit: Getty

Cranes work at Hudson Yards construction site, Monday, Nov. 23, 2015 in New York. 

Photo credit: AP

UNITED STATES - MAY 21: train yards Hudson Yards along the Hudson River on Manhattan's West Side.

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A construction worker climbs on a crane at the Hudson Yards during the opening of the Hudson Yards subway station in New York, U.S., on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. The $2.42 billion, 1.5 mile extension of the 7 Line to 34 Street and 11 Avenue is the only train south of 59th Street to provide service west of 9th Avenue, offering access to the Jacob Javits Convention Center, the High Line, and Hudson River Park.

 Photo credit: Getty

Passengers enter the Hudson Yards subway station during it's opening in New York, U.S., on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. The $2.42 billion, 1.5 mile extension of the 7 Line to 34 Street and 11 Avenue is the only train south of 59th Street to provide service west of 9th Avenue, offering access to the Jacob Javits Convention Center, the High Line, and Hudson River Park.

Photo credit: Getty

Construction continues on the Hudson Yards project in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013. 

Photo credit: AP

Construction continues on the Hudson Yards project in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013. 

Photo credit: AP

Hudson Yards and the High Line, foreground, are shown in this, Dec. 1, 2013 aerial photo in New York. The Empire State Building, top left, and midtown Manhattan skyline tower over the railroad yards. 

Photo credit: AP

Construction workers gather to mark the one year anniversary of the Hudson Yards project in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013. 

Photo credit: AP

A massive steel I-beam arrives on a flatbed truck for delivery to the Hudson Yards construction site, Friday, May 8, 2015 in New York. The steel pieces are the first shipment of a 100,000-ton steel order that will be used to complete construction of the 14-acre Eastern Rail Yard platform, a skyscraper that will house Time Warner headquarters, and a retail space with a Neiman Marcus store. The platform is being built over 30 active Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) train tracks and three subsurface rail tunnels utilized by AMTRAK and New Jersey Transit. Hudson Yards is expected to consist of 16 skyscrapers, containing new office, residential, and retail space. The tower under construction, center, is 10 Hudson Yards, the future home of Coach, L'Oreal and SAP.

Photo credit: AP

A BG 40 drill rig breaks ground for a new neighborhood called Hudson Yards, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012 in New York. The ambitious development is meant to transform the largest undeveloped property in Manhattan from an isolated rail yard into a sleek new neighborhood of spiky high-rises and graceful parks.

Photo credit: AP

This July 26, 2012 photo shows the railing for Hudson Yards in New York. This $15 billion small city within a city will soon start rising on land by the Hudson River. 

Photo credit: AP

A worker walks on an upper floor of a building during construction in the Hudson Yards neighborhood of New York, U.S., on Monday, April 25, 2016. A construction surge is transforming a decaying industrial expanse known as Hudson Yards -- from about 25th to 42nd streets, west of Eighth Avenue and stretching toward the Hudson River -- into a glittering enclave thats expanding the borders of New Yorks office districts and drawing some prestigious firms away from the traditional core of Midtown. 

Photo credit: Getty

10 Hudson Yards stands before the start of a topping out ceremony in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. The topping out of 10 Hudson Yards, a major milestone for the new neighborhood and New York City, was marked with the raising of the last batch of concrete to the top of the building and a lunchtime celebration with thousands of construction workers.

Photo credit: Getty

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The project is the biggest undertaken in New York since Rockefeller Center was built in 1936. And, like Rockefeller Center, which features a public plaza, fountain and iconic sculpture (not to mention the world-famous ice rink that takes over in the winter), the developers of Hudson Yards are making public space a priority.

Plans for the project's outdoor area will include more than five acres of plazas and gardens designed by landscape architect Thomas Wolz. The space will connect to the top end of the High Line, the popular park on New York's former elevated train tracks.

But the most striking part of the plan is the design for Vessel, which will allow visitors to climb nearly 150 feet into the air.

Take a look at the renderings.

Designed by Thomas Heatherwick, founder of the Heatherwick Studio in London, the Vessel consists of 154 flights of stairs, which intersect to form an almost Escher-esque lattice of infinite walkways. The structure has almost 2,500 individual steps and 80 landings. When totaled up, they create nearly a mile of pathway above the plazas and gardens below.

Courtesy of Forbes Massie

The sculpture widens from 50 feet across at its base to 150 feet at its top, mirroring the appearance of a hive or tornado. Once it's full of climbing visitors and tourists (which it inevitably will be when it opens in the fall of 2018), the fullness and movement will add to that motion-filled aesthetic.

Courtesy of Forbes Massie

Thomas Heatherwick said in a statement that the design was inspired by images of stepwells in India — elaborate, geometric structures with interconnected stairs that lead down to a source of water. The influence is fitting, since Hudson Yards sits near the Hudson River, and boasts views of the water from many of its planned towers.

Courtesy of Forbes Massie

"In a city full of eye-catching structures, our first thought was that it shouldn't just be something to look at. Instead we wanted to make something that everybody could use, touch, relate to," Heatherwick wrote in a statement.

Courtesy of VisualHouse

Beyond Heatherwick's new 'landmark,' the public space will feature groves of trees and plants, boasting more than 28,000 species. There will also be a 200-foot-long fountain, pedestrian paths, seating walls, and open squares with tables.

Courtesy Related Companies

And let us not forget that all of this — including the Vessel and the 16 planned skyscrapers in the development — will live on top of a high-tech platform built above a working rail yard.

Courtesy Related Companies

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