Thomas Heatherwick Making


By Thomas Heatherwick and Maisie Rowe

Design as a discipline had its genesis in the newfound requirement to create standardised products with the advent of mass production during the industrial revolution. While contemporary designers work on projects varying from the microscopic to the masterplan and across numerous disciplines ranging from typography to TV set design, the technological, economic and logistical complexity of realising projects means most designers use their careers to develop a specialist set of skills to serve a niche.

One of Britain’s most eminent contemporary designers Thomas Heatherwick is something of a polymath, with his practice working at a variety of scales and across a broad array of objects. Unusually for a designer, he has become a household name thanks to his work on the high profile cauldron for the London 2012 Olympic games and the introduction of the new Routemaster buses for Transport for London.

This self-authored monograph traverses the entire output of Heatherwick’s studio. The third edition, at 640 pages, starts with the design for Joanna Lumley’s proposed pedestrian Garden Bridge connecting Aldwych with Southbank (2013) and proceeds in reverse chronological order to conclude with projects Heatherwick undertook whilst studying as a student at Manchester Polytechnic and the Royal College of Art (1989-1993). This places the reader in the position of a time traveller, or maybe an archaeologist, who progressively uncovers deeper layers and discovers the origins of more familiar forms. It’s an excellent insight into the studio’s body of work.

It’s hard to talk about the book without mentioning a variety of the high profile projects, especially as there are a number of recurring themes, including: bridges (the Garden, Rolling, Jiading and Cloud bridges), green spaces (Pier 55, San Fransisco; Al Fayah Park, Abu Dhabi; and Southorn Playground, Hong Kong), pavilions (the UK, BMW and 1992 pavilions); and an affinity with industrial buildings (for example, the Bombay Sapphire distillery); as well as metals (the copper cauldron, aluminium extrusions and Spun chairs). Heatherwick’s prodigious output covers objects from the size of a postage stamp (literally) through to master planning a new art district in Shanghai; by detailing all aspects of this output the book communicates the variety of design disciplines undertaken by the studio.

It ought to be pointed out that the studio’s otherwise exceptional design expertise doesn’t extend easily into graphic design. While the quality of book’s content is high, at times the pages suffer from lack of editing, leading to an awkward aesthetic that does little to showcase Heatherwick’s work at its best. This is a shame. As the studio gains increased public recognition and scrutiny it seems fitting that such a catalogue should arrest the attention of a broader audience, as well as provide fodder for the design community.

The book is also an example of the challenges of meaningfully commenting on one’s own work. On their website, Heatherwick Studio neatly categorise their design work by size (small, medium and large), rather than by discipline. While clear themes run through the studio’s body of work, the reader is left to join the thematic dots themselves. An outsider’s perspective could provide useful insight into the studio’s ongoing concerns, design philosophy and working methodology – all of which are hinted at, but seldom explored let alone explained.

This shortcoming isn’t some kind of whitewash designed to project the studio in the best possible light. In fact, the book is rather straightforward about the studio’s highs and lows. The since-removed ‘B of the Bang’ sculpture designed to commemorate the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester (which placed significant pressure on the studio after there were issues with its construction and installation) can be contrasted with the success of the cauldron for the London 2012 Olympics or the acclaim of the UK pavilion (the Seed Cathedral) for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

What the book excels at, however, is highlighting the role that Heatherwick Studio is playing within design. While most contemporary designers continue to design products for mass production, most of Heatherwick’s projects are one-offs that explore new ideas, production methods and ways of living. In this sense, they could be regarded as prototypes, which others will make more common. It’s not difficult to envisage versions of London’s new buses being developed for other cities or some of the environmental and social considerations developed at Teesside Power Station being implemented more broadly. With a studio team now over 170 staff, we are sure that there are many further projects in the pipeline to fill the pages of future editions of this book. We hope the fourth and future editions can more deeply explore the studio’s philosophy and concerns, and help communicate Heatherwick’s output to the broadest possible audience.

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From the Publisher

An instant sellout on first publication, this volume has been expanded to include Thomas Heatherwick’s magnificent Olympic cauldron.

Written in close collaboration with the designer himself, the book offers a highly personal, in-depth and behind-the-scenes look at all aspects of his creative, design and manufacturing processes.

Each of the more than 140 fully illustrated projects 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.

Projects are organized chronologically and bookended by an introduction setting out the studio’s philosophy and a reference section.

Published by Thames and Hudson
ISBN 9780500291962

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