Heatherwick Studio’s Buckingham Palace tree sculpture elicits cutting reactions

Put A Tree On It

Heatherwick Studio’s Buckingham Palace tree sculpture elicits cutting reactions

Conceptual rendering of Tree of Trees by Heatherwick Studio (PicturePlane/Courtesy Heatherwick Studio)

Coinciding with Earth Day, the eponymous studio of British designer Thomas Heatherwick revealed late last week its design for a nearly 70-foot-tall Tree of Trees sculpture to be installed directly outside the gates of Buckingham Palace in London as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee weekend festivities from June 2–4. The tempora sculpture celebrates the Queen’s Green Canopy (QGC), an initiative (tagline: “Plant a Tree for the Jubilee”) focused on bringing shade-providing natural beauty to tree-deprived areas across the United Kingdom. A million trees have been planted during the first cycle of QGC from October 2021 through this past March. The newly 96-year-old monarch has also overseen the planning of 1,500 trees across the world during her 70-year reign.

As detailed in a news release, the Bloomberg Philanthropies–supported work will feature 350 native-to-England trees specimens housed within a spiraling frame built from timber and predominately reclaimed steel (86.5 percent to be exact) along with “materials and expertise sourced from local suppliers up and down the country;” each individual tree will be planted within spun aluminum pots embossed with the Queen’s royal cypher. The sculpture will reportedly have a prominent visual presence throughout the weekend and will feature in the BBC’s live broadcast of major Platinum Jubilee goings-on, including the Queen’s Birthday Parade and the Platinum Jubilee Pageant. (Her Majesty, it should be noted, no longer resides at Buckingham Palace.)

After the towering installation is deconstructed, the trees will be gifted to a range of yet-to-be-announced community groups and organizations to “celebrate their work and inspire the next generation of tree planters across the nation.” (Post-Jubilee weekend, the trees will spend a short stint in storage as they await distribution and planting this coming October.)

“It’s an honor for us to be making the Tree Of Trees,” said Thomas Heatherwick in a statement. “The structure, created from 350 British native trees and recycled steel, is coming together from workshops and nurseries across the country as one part of an incredible community campaign that’s literally changing the landscape of our nation.”

While the campaign Tree of Trees promotes is certainly a worthy one (from 2000 to 2021, the U.K. experienced a 13 percent decrease in its total tree cover, equivalent to nearly 1,200 acres per data from Global Forest Watch), the design concept itself has been subject to a social media dogpile from critics on both sides of the pond:

Rightfully, the British public is skeptical of temporary design installations (particularly those involving large amounts of live vegetation) following the costly Marble Arch Mound misfire last year. And, of course, there’s Heatherwick’s own Garden Bridge, a proposed plant-festooned park project over the River Thames that was officially nixed by London Mayor Sadiq Khan in April 2017 following years of heated controversy. (To be clear, taxpayers are not on the line for Tree of Trees as Bloomberg is backing the sculpture along with other community-based, conservation-focused programs leading up to the Platinum Jubilee.)

Tree of Trees marks the second arborical project for Heatherwick Studio to garner headlines in recent months. Late last year, the first phase of the studio’s massive 1,000 Trees project, a greenery-bedecked mixed-use development anchored by a mega-shopping mall in Shanghai’s M50 Arts District, formally opened to the public.

“Trees bring so many immediate and long-term benefits, and our foundation has been helping communities around the world plant more of them, including London, our company’s second home,” said Michael Bloomberg. “We’re looking forward to seeing this partnership with The Queen’s Green Canopy and a brilliant designer, Thomas Heatherwick, come into bloom.”

AN will check back in when the sculpture is realized in early June.