Thomas Heatherwick discussing his work at Strelka Institute
Thomas Alexander Heatherwick
17 February 1970
|Alma mater||Manchester Metropolitan University|
Heatherwick has been involved in the design of many projects, some controversial, including the Olympic Cauldron, the New Routemaster bus, and the UK pavilion at Expo 2010. Other notable projects include the renovation of the Hong Kong Pacific Place, the now-cancelled Garden Bridge, a proposed plan for a biomass power station in BEI-Teesside, and the Vessel in New York City.
Heatherwick was born in London on 17 February 1970. His maternal great-grandfather was the owner of Jaeger, the leading London fashion firm, and his uncle was the journalist Nicholas Tomalin. After primary school in Wood Green, north London, he attended the private Sevenoaks School in Kent. He also attended the Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley, in Hertfordshire, which puts an emphasis on gardening, handiwork, and a bespoke form of performance art called eurythmy. He studied three-dimensional design at Manchester Polytechnic and at the Royal College of Art (RCA). In his final year at RCA in 1994, Heatherwick met designer Terence Conran who came to give a talk at the school. Conran became a mentor to Heatherwick after seeing his plan for a gazebo made of two for his degree project, 6 m high curved stacks of birch plywood, and made its construction possible by inviting Heatherwick to work at his country home.
After graduating from the RCA in 1994, Heatherwick founded Heatherwick Studio. Conran asked Heatherwick to make an interior display for the Conran Shop, and this led to his first public commission after Mary Portas saw the display stand, and commissioned Heatherwick to make a window display for the 1997 London Fashion Week at the Harvey Nichols department store.
In 2002 Heatherwick Studio designed The Rolling Bridge (also known as "the curling bridge") as part of a redevelopment of Paddington Basin. The bridge is scheduled to unfold across the canal every Wednesday and Friday at noon and every Saturday at 2pm, but is currently out of action. To give access to upcoming water traffic, the bridge curls into an octagon. The bridge consists of eight triangular sections hinged at the walkway level and is connected above by two part links that collapse towards the deck under the control of hydraulic pistons. The Rolling Bridge won the 2005 British Structural Steel Award.
East Beach Cafe
In 2005 Heatherwick Studio completed the East Beach Café at Littlehampton, West Sussex. The large steel structure houses a café by daytime and restaurant in the evening. The concept allowed the steel to rust and the colours to develop over time before being fixed with a transparent oil. The café won a RIBA National Award in 2008.
B of the Bang
Heatherwick's design for B of the Bang, a £1.42 million 56m-high sculpture of 180 giant steel spikes, was unveiled outside the City of Manchester Stadium in 2005. It was the tallest public sculpture ever erected in Britain. The structure was commissioned to commemorate the 2002 Commonwealth Games and was named after a quote from former Olympic sprint champion Linford Christie and meant to symbolise the burst of energy as an athlete shoots out of the blocks.
However, one of its 180 steel spikes dislodged within two weeks, and a further 22 spikes had to be removed from the sculpture over the next four years. Angel of the North creator Anthony Gormley urged Manchester City Council not to scrap the sculpture and wrote a letter to the Chief Executive Sir Howard Bernstein, where he described the 150-tonne landmark as "remarkable, dynamic and engaging". He stated that "It is a great tribute to Manchester... and to allow it to disappear would be a loss not just of an inspirational artwork but also of the council's nerve." The council decided to put it into storage, saying that it could be rebuilt at a later stage. They said "Thomas Heatherwick's B of the Bang was a magnificent artistic statement and it was regrettable that technical problems undermined that vision." The council sued the Heatherwick studios over the problems, settling out of court for £1.7m. Danny Boyle said it was the inspiration for his asking Heatherwick Studio to design the Olympic Cauldron: “It goes back to the time I spent sitting under his B of the Bang sculpture. I loved it so much; it’s a tragedy they took it down.”
Heatherwick was appointed by Worth Abbey in 2009 to redesign its church interior. A modern version of traditional monastic furniture was installed including pews for 700, choir stalls, monastery seats, desks and confession rooms, all of which were fabricated from solid hardwood. Cracks appeared in the pews within months and Church officials put signs on them saying: “Caution: Pew awaiting repair. Please do not sit here.” Heatherwick has denied responsibility for the defects and has blamed the contractor.
UK Pavilion, Shanghai Expo 2010
The studio developed the idea for the UK Pavilion by exploring the relationship between nature and cities, and incorporated Kew Gardens' Millennium Seed Bank Partnership, whose mission is to collect the seeds of 25% of the world's plant species by 2020. The structure consisted of over 60,000 25-foot acrylic optic fibres. It housed 60,000 plant seeds at the end of acrylic rods, held in place by geometrically-cut holes with the rods inserted therein.
In the duration of the six-month Expo, more than eight million people went inside, making it the UK's most visited tourist attraction. At a state ceremony, it was announced that the UK Pavilion had won the event's top prize, the gold medal for pavilion design.
After the Expo the UK Pavilion's acrylic rods were donated to schools and the World Expo Museum, while others were auctioned for charity.
New Routemaster bus
In 2010 the Mayor of London Boris Johnson announced that Heatherwick Studio would be designing the New Routemaster. It was the first time in more than 50 years that Transport for London commissioned the development of a bus built specifically for the capital. A long asymmetric front window provided the driver with clear kerbside views, while a wrapped glazing panel reflected passenger circulation – bringing more daylight into the bus and offering views out over London. Initially the bus reinstated one of the features of the 1950s AEC Routemaster, an open platform at its rear, which offered a "hop-on hop-off" service. However, the expense of staffing this feature, to avoid the many accidents that occurred on the original bus, has since led to it being discontinued. The design has three doors and two staircases, making it quicker and easier for passengers to board. In engineering terms, the New Routemaster was claimed to be 15 per cent more fuel efficient than the existing hybrid buses and 40 per cent more efficient than conventional diesel double-deckers.
Designs for the new bus were originally unveiled in May 2010 and a prototype, developed and manufactured by Wrightbus, was launched in December 2011, The first bus entered public service in February 2012 and Transport for London ordered a further 600 buses in September 2012. By 2018, the last of the 1000 new Routemasters were delivered. Current Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has pledged no more new Routemaster buses will be purchased for London, the funds instead going towards upgrading the city's existing fleet with the latest sustainable technologies and purchasing new buses.
Critics have pointed to the very large cost and frequent issues caused by the design, including excessive temperatures for passengers in the summer. It is claimed the Routemasters are emitting more harmful particles than the buses they replaced. Prospective London Mayoral candidate Christian Wolmar, who first revealed problems with the new Routemasters, said in July 2015: "This project was misconceived from the start. I have been told that drivers have been complaining about the failed batteries since August last year and yet nothing has been done. It is no surprise the emissions are higher than those on conventional buses as the New Bus for London is not operating as designed. It is supposed to be powered by an electric motor, but instead is using its inefficient diesel engine that should, in normal conditions, be running at constant speed."
2012 Olympic cauldron
Heatherwick Studio was asked by Danny Boyle to design the Summer Olympics and Paralympics cauldron for the London 2012 Olympics, which was lit during the Opening ceremony of the London Olympics on 27 July 2012.
The cauldron was made of 204 pieces, which were brought into the Olympic Stadium by children representing each team as part of the Parade of nations. These pieces were mounted on stems which, once lit by seven torchbearers, were raised to merge into one huge flame, representing the coming together in peace of each of the 204 countries competing in the Olympic Games and the collaborative human spirit at the heart of the Games. The copper petals, made at Peterborough-based Contour Autocraft were created by craftsmen who had previously made body parts for car makers such as Bentley.
After the close of the Games, the petals were sent to each country as a legacy of their sporting achievements in the Games. In total 204 Olympic petals and 164 Paralympic petals were offered to competing nations. On 26 November 2012 the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson delivered a lasting memento of London's Olympic and Paralympic Games to India's medal-winning athletes in Delhi.
In June 2013, New York design studio Atopia claimed that the design of the Olympics cauldron was identical to something they had presented to the London Olympic committee in 2007. They had not been able to raise the issue until 2013 due to a restrictive non-disclosure agreement that prevented all companies from promoting any work related to the Olympics. However, Heatherwick denied that he had been briefed by the commissioner on Atopia's idea, and was adamant that the cauldron design was his alone, based on a student project he did in 1993. Danny Boyle, artistic director of the opening ceremony, also denied having known about the prior design, while Martin Green, former head of ceremonies of LOCOG, claimed that the idea came out of discussions between Boyle, Heatherwick and himself. The organisers of the London Olympics later reached an out-of-court settlement acknowledging that several key concepts and design features of the cauldron were proposals submitted by Atopia. Heatherwick however maintained that the design was his own and not influenced by Atopia's design.
Proposed Thames Garden Bridge
Heatherwick designed, in collaboration with the actress Joanna Lumley, a proposed pedestrian bridge across the Thames in central London, the Garden Bridge. The bridge was planned to feature trees and gardens.
The project, originally supposed to be fully privately financed, was beset with funding issues, criticisms and delays. In April 2017 Margaret Hodge, the former chair of the Public Accounts Committee, in a report ordered by the Mayor of London, concluded that the project should be cancelled: the £46 million of public money already lost was preferable to risking additional demands if the project proceeded. Hodge criticised the appointments of Heatherwick Studio and engineer Arup in 2013 which "were not open, fair or competitive … and revealed systematic failures and ineffective control systems"  The project was officially cancelled on 14 August 2017.
The Learning Hub, also known as The Hive, opened in 2015. It is a multi-use educational facility built as part of the Nanyang Technological University's campus redevelopment programme for use by 33,000 students. The building is designed to better suit contemporary methods of learning in response to the use of the internet as a primary educational tool. The design challenges the traditional format of university buildings which have box-like lecture rooms linked by long corridors. Instead, learning facilities and social spaces are interwoven to encourage interaction between users across different disciplines. The building consists of 56 rounded tutorial rooms stacked in 12 towers arranged around a full-height, naturally ventilated atrium The tutorial rooms are conceived to break down student-teacher hierarchies and promote interactive group teaching. The spaces are flexible and can be re-configured, encouraging collaboration between students. Concrete was used as the primary construction material to keep costs down and ensure a high level of environmental performance was achieved. Heatherwick Studio created a bespoke method to imprint three-dimensional texture into the façade, interior panels and columns using reusable silicone moulds. 700 commissioned drawings by artist and illustrator Sara Fanelli were cast into the elevator cores and stairs. The drawings reference art, literature and science and are meant to act as ambiguous thought triggers for students and teachers. The various raw treatments of concrete used give the building an almost hand-made quality. In 2014, the Learning Hub achieved BREEAM Green Mark Platinum status, the highest environmental rating in Singapore. It also won the British Precast 'Creativity in Concrete' Award from the Concrete Society in 2015.
Bombay Sapphire Distillery
Heatherwick Studio led the masterplan and design for the Bombay Sapphire gin distillery in Hampshire, which opened in 2014. The transformation of the five-acre site included the renovation a 300-year-old paper mill and the restoration 23 existing buildings. In the modernisation scheme, the River Test, which runs through the site, was widened and used as an organisational device. Two curved glasshouses, one with a temperate climate and one with a Mediterranean climate, emerge from the renovated mill building and house the 10 botanicals used in the gin distillation process. Waste heat from the still house is recycled and used to grow the plant species within the glasshouses. Traditional large copper stills are located within the interior, which consists of an educational dry room and bar to accommodate tours and public events. The project was the first facility in the drinks manufacturing industry and the first renovation to achieve BREEAM 'outstanding' accreditation.
Coal Drops Yard
Coal Drops Yard is a public space and retail destination in King's Cross, London. The project included the renovation of two buildings built in 1850 and used to receive freight arriving from the north of England. The design stitches the two buildings together by extending the two roofs towards each other until they meet. This creates an additional storey and distinct centre to the linear site. The stretched roofs shelter the yard below which can be used to host events, whilst the third storey will offer views of King's Cross, the Francis Crick Institute and Cubitt Square. The project is part of the wider re-development programme for the area by Argent LLP and King's Cross Central Limited Partnership (KCCLP). Coal Drops Yard was approved by planning in December 2015, and was completed in October 2018.
Heatherwick Studio worked on the conversion of the historic Grain Silo at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town into a not-for-profit cultural institution, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA), which houses the most significant collection of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. The 9,500 m2 (2.3 acres) complex consist of nine floors with 6,000 m2 (65,000 sq ft) of dedicated exhibition space. Using a variety of concrete-cutting techniques, galleries and a large central atrium were carved out of the silo's 42 concrete tubes. The concrete shafts were capped with strengthened glass that can be walked over by visitors, and designed to draw light into the building from above and create a cathedral-like interior.
The excavation of this interior space unifies two buildings; the silo and the grading tower. Bisected tubes contain cylindrical lifts and a spiral staircase. Pillowed glazing panels formed of segments of flat glass have been inserted into the upper floors. The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa opened on September 22, 2017.
In 2016, Heatherwick's design for the Vessel structure at Hudson Yards' Public Plaza in New York City was unveiled. The structure is in the form of a network of interlocking staircases that visitors can climb up, and its design was inspired by the ancient stepwells of India. It has 2,500 steps in 154 flights of stairs, equivalent to 15 storeys, and it has 80 viewing landings. Construction began in April 2017, and it opened on 15 March 2019.
Bund Finance Centre
Heatherwick Studio are working in collaboration with Fosters + Partners on the Bund Finance Centre (BFC) – a new mixed-use complex in Shanghai. The project is situated at the end of the Bund in Shanghai and envisioned as a connection point between the city's old town and the financial district.
The plan includes two 180-metre towers (590 ft) that combine offices, a boutique hotel and retail space. An arts and cultural centre is located at the centre of the scheme. Conceived as a platform for international exchange, the centre will feature art galleries and theatre spaces. The building is surrounded by an adaptable moving veil which reveals the stage on the balcony and views towards Pudong district.
Other notable works and projects
- Sculpted forms in laminated wood, Guastavino's, New York City
- Bleigiessen, Wellcome Trust, London
- Blue Carpet, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne
- Longchamp store in the SoHo district of New York City
- Interior, Konstam Restaurant, Kings Cross, London WC1
- Southorn Playground, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
- "Zip Bag" handbag for Longchamp
- Boiler Suit, Guy's Approaches, Guy's & St Thomas' Hospital, London
- Studios Complex at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Aberystwyth University
- Sitooterie II, Barnards Farm, West Horndon, Essex.
- Nanyang Technological University Learning Hub, Singapore
- Bombay Sapphire Distillery, Hampshire
- Pacific Place, Hong Kong
- Pier55, New York
- Paternoster Vents, Paternoster Square, London
Approach to design
The Heatherwick Studio has worked with an extensive range of design disciplines, including architecture, engineering, transport and urban planning to furniture, sculpture and product design. According to Heatherwick, the wide range of skill sets found at Heatherwick Studio is a reaction to Heatherwick's frustration at encountering "sliced-up ghettos of thought" of sculpture, architecture, fashion, embroidery, metalwork, product and furniture design all in separate departments. He considers all design in three dimensions, not as multi-disciplinary design, but as a single discipline: three-dimensional design.
Unlike many architecture practices, Heatherwick Studio does not have a fixed style and focuses on problem solving. He has said: “It is more like solving a crime. The answer is there, and your job is to find it. So we go off and do bits of research that essentially eliminate suspects from the enquiry. And then you follow up leads and gradually narrow down the potential solutions. Ultimately what you’re left with is the answer.”
Exhibitions and publications
In 2012 the Victoria and Albert Museum put on a major retrospective of the studio's work, titled Heatherwick Studio: Designing the Extraordinary, and curated by Abraham Thomas. The exhibition revealed the creative processes and spirit of curiosity of Heatherwick Studio across two decades of projects, spanning the disciplines of architecture, product design, engineering, sculpture, and urban planning.
The British Council hosted the major touring exhibition New British Inventors: Inside Heatherwick Studio, curated by Kate Goodwin Drue Heinz Curator of Architecture at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. In 2015 and 2016 the exhibition travelled to six venues in East Asia and reached over 409,109 visitors. The museums and galleries the exhibition travelled to include: Singapore National Design Centre; CAFA, Beijing; Power Station of Art, Shanghai; PMQ, Hong Kong; Taipei Fine Arts Museum; and D Museum, Seoul. The first US exhibition Provocations: The Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio travelled to three venues in North America in 2014 and 2015: Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas; the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; and the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York City.
In 2012, Thames and Hudson published Thomas Heatherwick: Making, a book which laid out Heatherwick's body of work so far. Each of the more than 140 fully illustrated projects included is accompanied by a text explaining, in Heatherwick’s words, the design question it posed and the creative and practical processes used to address it. A second volume was released in 2013 that includes the Olympic Cauldron.
Heatherwick has won numerous design awards including the Prince Philip Designers Prize (2006), the London Design Medal (2010), the RIBA Lubetkin Prize (2010) for the UK Pavilion. In 2004 he became the youngest practitioner to be appointed a Royal Designer for Industry.
Heatherwick has been awarded Honorary Doctorates from University of the Arts London, the Royal College of Art, University of Dundee, University of Brighton, Sheffield Hallam University and Manchester Metropolitan University.
In 2019, Heatherwick received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement presented by Awards Council member Julie Taymor during the International Achievement Summit in New York City.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Thomas Heatherwick.|
- Heatherwick Studio – official site
- Profile in Wired Magazine
- Interview Thomas Heatherwick for Studio International
- Profile in Icon magazine
- Heatherwick and the Conran Collection in Icon magazine
- Profile in Art & Architecture – PDF
- Profile in The Observer 26 September 2004
- East Beach Café
- Extrusions at haunchofvenison.com
- Manchester Metropolitan University's Honorands
- Artist in plea on 'bang' future – BBC News story
- Rolling Bridge in Frame and Form magazine
- Glass Bridge in Frame and Form magazine
- Thomas Heatherwick at TED