2012 London Olympics

Thomas Heatherwick and Heatherwick Studio

In one of my previous posts I briefly touched on the subject of art vs design and the common assumption that design is simply about being functional and almost devoid of emotion.
I had promised to revisit this subject and I think with the world's eyes currently on London during the 2012 Olympic games British design particularly, has been pushed to the forefront of the media. With names such as Zaha Hadid, Stella Maccartney, Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby. Maybe this is a good time to pick up where I left off.

I going to begin with the man of the moment Mr Thomas Heatherwick and Heatherwick Studio based in London. He currently has an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. A book called 'Making' which I received yesterday as a birthday gift from friends, and the launch of the Olympic cauldron last week was just about the icing on the cake astonishing! . He is a Talented Designer I have admired for a long while and even wrote about in my final thesis last year. He has to be the perfect example of how design can be applied in many different ways. I consider him to be a creative mind that has the ability to effortlessly cross between art design sculpture and  architecture. Creative boundaries that have been drawn over time cannot be so clearly defined within his practise. 

His work is highly skilled, technical, thoughtful, purposeful and poetic. I have such respect for his level of practical making skills, construction and material understanding. As a designer I believe this is so important to grasp these processes in order to be able to push the design, and fully understand your own vision before it may have to be handed over to someone else or industrial collaborators to finally construct.

 Two examples of artists working in a similar way is Anish Kapoor with his most recent project Orbit positioned next to the Olympic Stadium, and Anthony Gormley's Angel of the North. Both designed by contemporary visual artists and have both found themselves having to carefully design these works because of the scale in which they have chosen to work. Once you enter the world of large scale works it ultimately has to be designed. Instinctive decision making cannot be part of the process, there are too many factors involved. And this is one of the main reasons I get a little frustrated when divisions are made between what is a piece of art and what is a piece of design or whether indeed you are an Artist or a Designer these boundaries cannot be so rigid anymore. Once a vision becomes sizable, collaboration is inevitable. Both Richard Serra and Anish Kapoor have been working with Arcelor Mittal in Germany, without that help, innovation would be difficult to achieve.

Here are three examples of Thomas Heatherwick's works. I've chosen three quite different commissions to show the variety of work he and the studio undertakes. It was a difficult choice as their body of work is so vast.

Images taken from Thomas Heatherwick Making copyright belongs to Heatherwick Studio

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Bleigiessen 2002 for The Welcome Trust 

This piece of work is essentially a piece of sculpture commissioned by the welcome trust for their London headquarters. The final piece measures 30m and comprises of 15 tonnes of glass beads.
Such a mammoth piece of work was made up of many small components is truly impressive.
The processes involved in the experimentation of this work again is an indication of the thought and consideration for every tiny detail needed for success. 

The World Expo UK Pavilion 2007 Shanghai 

The Seed Cathedral

The theme for the expo was 'the future of cities' looking at green spaces plants and health with the help and support of Kew Gardens The seed cathedral is constructed from acrylic rods and 250,000 seeds embedded within the tip of each rod within the interior space. The pavilion became a quiet still space for visitors to experience. 
Light changed throughout the interior. Each and every detail was carefully considered to create a particular atmosphere within this space both inside and out.  

Towers of Silence Mumbai India 2010

This particular project fascinates me as it's a design solution for a sensitive and emotional part of our life cycle tackling the subject of death by building a large aviary in the middle of sacred ground. 
The Zoroastrian faith in India places bodies into a space called 'towers of silence' where the human remains are eventually consumed by vultures. 

With the faith in decline and the population of the vultures becoming smaller this natural process was becoming hindered by the infestation of rats and the spread disease. This design brief was driven by the need to find a solution to contain and preserve the sacred space and to increase the vulture population as well making it less visible to the local community.

This is a prime example of fulfilling a clear function but it's also about preserving not only the welfare of the vultures but also enabling a faith to continue an integral part of their belief system right through to death. 

Thomas Heatherwick Studio: Designing the extraordinary is currently showing at the V&A until 30th September 2012.