In a community of oh-so-serious architects, British designer Thomas Heatherwick is a bit of a renegade. He’s different, alright. But that doesn’t mean his designs are any less brilliant than anyone else’s. He only believes that function doesn’t have to be boring, or worse – ugly.
Beautiful design is what makes Heatherwick stand out in this industry. Any good architect can design aesthetics into function. What he does is weave the two together so that one virtually couldn’t exist without the other.
A Not So Ordinary Start
Thomas Heatherwick studied design at the Royal College of Art according to the Wall Street Journal article, “‘Provocations: The Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio’ Review.” As complements to his education, he also studied such peculiar subjects as embroidery and origami.
He founded Heatherwick Studio after graduating from RCI. And according to his biography at Design Museum, his vision for the studio was to create an atmosphere of experimentation with architecture, sculpture, engineering and design.
Becoming Known for Originality
Heatherwick’s international breakout work happened in 1997 during London’s Fashion Week. Having designed a fantastical window installation for Harvey Nichols department store, which his biography explains consisted of a “dramatically lit plywood sculpture” that worked its way through windows and up the building’s exterior, he earned a reputation for his uncommonly creative design then and there.
Whimsical design is what he’s primarily known for, but there’s more to Thomas Heatherwick than that. He’s an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects who the Wall Street Journal calls a “design talent of startling originality.” One of his most well-known designs, the Rolling Bridge in London, might look unusual just for the sake of being different, especially when it’s curled up into its “millipede” form. But the design and the mechanics that make it work reveal his ingenuity.
The “Provocations” Design Exhibit
It’s not every day that a single designer merits his own design exhibit, especially in conjunction with Smithsonian Design Museum. Provocations: The Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio, highlights more than 40 of his projects from small works such as a Christmas card to massive ones, such as a 15-acre Shanghai project, as part of the traveling exhibit.
Curated by Smithsonian Design Museum’s Brooke Hodge, Heatherwick’s exhibit is making the rounds in the US at least through 2016. It’s a perfect time for his debut in the American market, suggests the WSJ, as Heatherwick is working on two important projects stateside. One for Google, and another for a privately funded public park in NYC.
Creativity is Not Without its Detractors
The Google project has Heatherwick collaborating with Danish architect, Bjarke Ingels. Together, they will design the new Google headquarters in Mountain View, CA. That’s one of two American designs, and it’s not really controversial. The other American project has a few features ruffled, as does another one in London, both of which are intended as public spaces.
Pier 55 in Manhattan is the future site of a floating park and amphitheater, which entrepreneur Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg are funding. The WSJ reports that a local civic group has sued to stop the progress, stating that although it has private funding, the public who will ultimately use the facilities had no say in the plans. The London project, known as Garden Bridge, will ultimately span the Thames. It’s the architectural community that dislikes it, saying that it’s just too whimsical.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said that the creation of beauty is art. While architecture is serious business, that doesn’t mean it should shun aesthetics, especially since people react in a positive way to beautiful things. What Thomas Heatherwick creates is functional art. It blends the necessary with the beautiful so seamlessly that neither might exist without the support of the other. He might look like a renegade compared to some of his contemporaries. But he’s fulfilling his mission one project at a time.
When it’s time for your next professional development hours credits, check out our courses and see what PDH Academy can do for you. We make it simple, so that you can get on with creating your own beautiful works of architecture.
Thomas Heatherwick, by Strelka Institute for Media, via Flickr Creative Commons
The Rolling Bridge, by Loz Pycock, via Flickr Creative Commons
Metroline Bus, by Lawrence Abel, via Wikimedia Commons
Bombay Sapphire Distillery, by John Nuttall, via Flickr Creative Commons