Heatherwick seems to be partial to working, conceptually if not formally, within a few well-trodden tracts. As with most designers, Heatherwick’s designs represent varied modes of the manipulation of historical, natural, and manufactured precedents. Unlike most of his peers, Heatherwick and Co. appear to have a healthy sense of humor and are eager to let the world in on the joke. Throughout the book, source material is blatantly borrowed, purposefully evident, even at times laughably unchanged.
The Zeitz MOCAA, to be located in Cape Town, South Africa, is a loving nod to Gordon Matta-Clark’s Conical Intersect, inflated to parade balloon proportions. Similarly, the Garden Bridge, which will cross the River Thames in Central London, conjures images of the Rialto and Vecchio bridges in Italy, the old London Bridge, and closer to our own epoch, Steven Holl’s unbuilt Bridge of Houses. The 1,200-foot span is part Victorian garden, part urban respite, part viewing platform, part thoroughfare, and is intended to be “a direct and fast route for a commuter, [but] also offers the possibility of being the slowest way to cross the river.” Fittingly, its conceptual clarity is driven by its programmatic ambiguity.
The recently completed Nanyang Technological University Learning Hub in Singapore offers bespoke spaces for collaborative learning, cross-disciplinary discussion, and active teaching. Its use is thoroughly modern, but the building appears to borrow massing and ornament from the many temples located throughout this region of Southeast Asia. The tapered earth-tone towers are reminiscent of Angkor Wat flipped upside down, and the interior concrete reliefs reinterpret Kuala Lumpur’s exuberant Sri Mahamariamman Temple from the inside out.
Heatherwick is an enthusiastic manipulator of natural forms and a serial tinkerer. The 2010 World Expo UK Pavilion, nicknamed the Seed Cathedral, looked like a three-story high exploding dandelion, with 60,000 spiny florets thrusting out in all directions. This internationally acclaimed project was preceded a decade earlier by the smaller Barnards Farm and Belsay Sitooteries, both of which were garden
follies covered in outward reaching spindles and, it turns out, were refined versions of an even earlier, bristle-covered never-constructed building proposed for West London.
Readers are shown Rolling Bridge projects that recoil like inch worms to allow safe passage beneath by river traffic and undulating waves of manipulated plywood, steel, and metal mesh that form dramatic restaurant decor, retail stairs, and building screens. Clouds are commandeered as atrium sculpture and floating footbridges.
Heatherwick clearly revels in reappropriating common objects, natural and manufactured, including the single zipper that was used to create a bag for Longchamp and discarded pram components reconstituted as a chair.
Enchanted by both manufacturing practices and the flotsam of production malfunctions, the studio experimented with enormous extrusion machines to fabricate benches as if by “squeezing toothpaste out of a tube.” In this process, long stretches of homogenous extruded profiles are punctuated by anomalous hiccups, chance manipulations that turn an otherwise pristine object into something completely unexpected. The results are surprising vaguely ossein, and require the object to finish its own design.
Sequencing the book in reverse chronological order allows no hierarchical distinctions between built and speculative, building or holiday mailer, sensible or outlandish.
As he reflects on his work, Heatherwick also looks back at his many supporters and collaborators with gratitude and affection. The preface, tellingly titled “From I to We,” acknowledges key members of his studio and illustrates his family’s role in instilling in him an autodidactic design approach.
The book, like the rest of Heatherwick’s output, is ambitious and memorable, though thoroughly overwhelming and imperfect. Perhaps that’s the point.