Thomas Heatherwick

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Thomas Heatherwick
Thomas Heatherwick at Strelka Institute.jpg
Thomas Heatherwick discussing his work at Strelka Institute
Born Thomas Alexander Heatherwick
(1970-02-17) 17 February 1970 (age 46)
London, England
Nationality English
Alma mater Manchester Metropolitan University
Occupation Architect
Practice Heatherwick Studio

Thomas Alexander Heatherwick, CBE, RDI, HonFREng (born 17 February 1970) is an English designer and the founder of London-based design practice Heatherwick Studio. Since the late 1990s Heatherwick has emerged as one of Britain’s most significant designers.[1] Heatherwick works with a team of around 180 architects, designers and makers from a combined studio and workshop in King’s Cross, London.[2]

Heatherwick has been involved in the design of a number of projects, including the Olympic Cauldron, the New Routemaster bus, the first new double decker bus commissioned for London in 50 years, and the UK pavilion at Expo 2010.[3] Other notable proposed projects include the Garden Bridge, the renovation of Pacific Place, and a plan for a biomass power station in BEI-Teesside. As of 2015 he has a number of projects under construction, including a pier on the Hudson River in New York and the Bund Financial Centre in Shanghai, a collaboration with Foster and Partners architects.

Early life[edit]

Bleigiessen, Wellcome Trust, London

Heatherwick was born in London on 17 February 1970. He attended the Sevenoaks School in Kent, and studied three-dimensional design at Manchester Polytechnic and at the Royal College of Art.[4] Whilst Heatherwick was at the RCA he met designer Terence Conran. Conran became a mentor to Heatherwick after seeing his plan for a gazebo made of two, 6 m high curved stacks of birch plywood and made its construction possible by inviting Heatherwick to work at his country home.[5]

After graduating from the RCA, Heatherwick founded Heatherwick Studio in 1994.[6]

Key work[edit]

Rolling Bridge[edit]

Video of the Rolling Bridge in operation

In 2002 Heatherwick Studio designed The Rolling Bridge (also known as "the curling bridge") as part of a redevelopment of Paddington Basin, which unfolds across the Grand Union Canal every Friday at noon. The bridge folds out of the way of upcoming traffic by curling 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.[7]

East Beach Cafe[edit]

In 2005 Heatherwick Studio completed a futuristic, shell-like 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 in a transparent oil.[8] The cafe won a RIBA National Award in 2008.[9]

B of the Bang[edit]

B of the Bang, Manchester

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 and possibly most dramatic public sculpture ever erected in Britain.[10] 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.[11]

The B of the Bang however was dismantled after parts of the structure fell off. Manchester City Council responded to the dismantling of the structure by saying, "Thomas Heatherwick's B of the Bang was a magnificent artistic statement and it was regrettable that technical problems undermined that vision."[12] Danny Boyle said that B of the Bang was the inspiration for him asking Heatherwick Studio to design the Olympic Cauldron. When asked why he turned to Heatherwick, he said: “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.”[13]

UK pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010[edit]

UK Pavilion at 2010 Expo, Shanghai

Heatherwick Studio designed the UK’s Pavilion "Seed Cathedral" at the Shanghai Expo 2010 in Shanghai. The studio developed the idea of the UK Pavilion 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.[14] The Seed Cathedral consisted of over 60,000 25-foot acrylic optic fibers. It housed 60,000 plant seeds at the end of acrylic rods, held in place by geometrically-cut holes with the rods inserted therein.[15]

In the duration of the six-month Expo, more than eight million people went inside the Seed Cathedral, 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.[16]

After the Expo the cathedral’s story continued, and its rods were donated to schools and the World Expo Museum, while others were auctioned for charity.

New Routemaster bus[edit]

In 2010 the Mayor of London Boris Johnson announced that Heatherwick Studio would be designing the New Routemaster. The project marks the first time in more than 50 years that Transport for London has commissioned and overseen the development of a bus built specifically for the capital.[17] A long asymmetric front window provides the driver with clear kerbside views, while a wrapped glazing panel reflects 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 it being discontinued.[18] 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.[19]

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.[20]

However, critics have pointed to the very large cost and frequent issues caused by the design, including excessive temperatures for passengers in the summer [21] It is claimed the Routemasters are emitting more harmful particles than the buses they replaced. 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.” [22]

2012 Olympic cauldron[edit]

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 young 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.[23]

The copper petals, made at Peterborough-based Contour Autocraft were created by traditionally skilled craftsmen who had previously made body parts for car makers such as Bentley.[24]

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 personally delivered a lasting memento of London's thrilling Olympic and Paralympic Games to India's medal-winning athletes in Delhi.[25]

Garden Bridge project[edit]

Heatherwick designed, in collaboration with the actress Joanna Lumley a pedestrian bridge across the Thames in London, the "Garden Bridge".[26] The bridge is planned to feature trees and gardens.[26][27]

The project however has been beset with funding issues, criticisms and delays. As of August 2016, the construction of the bridge has yet to proceed.[28]

Other notable works[edit]

Paternoster Vents, at Bishops Court near Paternoster Square, London.
At the points where this skin reaches a building the slabs curve upwards to create the sensation of a fabric. Replacement tiles show the colour of the original concept.

Approach to design[edit]

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.[33] 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.[5]

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.”[5]


Olympic cauldron plagiarism claim[edit]

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.[34] 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.[35] 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.[35] 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.[36]

B of the Bang structural problems[edit]

B of the Bang suffered from structural problems once completed, one of its 180 steel spikes dislodged within two weeks, and a further 22 spikes were removed from the sculpture before Manchester City Council decided to put it into storage.[37] Manchester Council’s decision to dismantle of B of the Bang was controversial. Angel of the North creator Anthony Gormley urged council bosses not to scrap the sculpture and wrote a letter to the Chief Executive of Manchester City Council 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."[38]

Manchester City Council took legal action against Heatherwick studio and their subcontractors, who in November 2008 agreed to pay £1.7 million in damages.[39]

Worth Abbey pew cracks[edit]

Thomas 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.”[40] Heatherwick has denied responsibility for the defects and has blamed the contractor.[41]

Exhibitions and publications[edit]

In 2012 the Victoria and Albert Museum put on a major retrospective of the studio’s work. The exhibition was called "Heatherwick Studio: Designing the Extraordinary".[42]

The exhibition revealed the creative processes and spirit of curiosity of Heatherwick Studio across two decades of projects, spanning the disciplines of architecture, furniture and product design, to engineering, sculpture and urban planning.[43]

The British Council are organising a tour of his work around Asia, called 'Inside Heatherwick Studio', curated by Kate Goodwin.[44]

In 2012, Thames and Hudson published Thomas Heatherwick: Making. The book lays out Heatherwick's inventive 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.[45]

Personal life[edit]

Heatherwick has twins.[46] In 2015, he was named one of GQ's 50 best dressed British men.[47]


Thomas 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.[48]

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.[49]

He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2013 Birthday Honours for services to the design industry.[50]

In September 2016 he was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.[51]



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  36. ^ Oliver Wainwright (23 July 2014). "Row over Olympic cauldron design settled out of court". The Guardian. 
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  46. ^ "Dream factory". Financial Times. 17 September 2010. 
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  50. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 60534. p. 8. 15 June 2013.
  51. ^ "Academy elects top engineers as Fellows at its 40th anniversary AGM". Retrieved 13 November 2016. 

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