Try as you might, it is virtually impossible to avoid seeing or experiencing a product or building designed by Heatherwick Studio, particularly if you live (or have recently visited) London or other parts of the UK. It is owing to its well-deserved popularity and swift international growth that the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in London has decided to present the first major retrospective of the work produced by what, despite its relatively short life, is often perceived as one of the most prolific and renowned design studios practising in the UK today.
The exhibition ‘Heatherwick Studio: Designing the Extraordinary’, curated by Abraham Thomas and designed by Heatherwick Studio itself, occupies the Porter gallery, one of the most prominent spaces at the V&A, immediately to the left of the ticket hall in the main atrium. Laid out as an imaginary picture gallery (as depicted by numerous neoclassical artists), the exhibition displays over 150 objects in a busy and yet exciting format that attempts to occupy as much floor and wall space as possible. The items on display range from small scale projects such as Christmas cards or the Zip Bag for Longchamp to large projects such as the Sheung Wan Hotel in Hong Kong or an urban planning proposal for London’s Royal Docks. In between these two extremes of production scales, visitors can find the numerous projects that made Thomas Heatherwick and his studio famous, from the famous 1997 intrusion intervention at Harvey Nicholls department store during London Fashion Week, to very recent extrusions of benches and chairs. Included are also images of the pedestrian Rolling Bridge in Paddington Basin, London (2004), a detailed study of the materials and design of Bleigiessen, the installation commissioned for the London headquarters of the Wellcome Trust (2005), an original seed-tipped rod from the UK Pavilion Seed Cathedral at Shanghai World Expo (2010), and a full-scale detail of the new London double-decker bus (2012).
The exhibition spans the rich variety of disciplines covered by Heatherwick Studio, including architecture, engineering, transport, urban planning, furniture, sculpture and product design. On display are preparatory drawings, full-scale material fragments and maquettes for architectural achievements and proposals such as the East Beach Café, Littlehampton (2007), the design for Longchamp store, New York (2006) and the Teesside biomass-fuelled power station, UK. The collection of contextual photographs, models, prototypes, and material fragments on display also offer an insight into the studio’s design processes and their curiosity for materials, engineering and fabrication.
Thomas Heatherwick studied 3D design in Manchester followed by an MA at the Royal College of Art in London. He established his own studio in 1994 and since then he has worked with an extensive range of design disciplines. His work reveals a fascination for the possibilities of expanding the fluid qualities of materials into design and architecture. Heatherwick’s creativity and ingenuity have earned him numerous design awards including the Prince Philip Designers Prize (2006), the London Design Medal (2010), the RIBA
Lubetkin Prize (2010) for the UK Pavilion and in 2004 he became the youngest practitioner to be appointed a Royal Designer for Industry.
The exhibition is part of the V&A’s British Design Season and compliments the major exhibition ‘British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age‘. It will be open to the public every day between 31 May and 30 September 2012.