Heatherwick Studio: Provocations at Cooper Hewitt

Thomas Heatherwick Studio: Provocations, at Cooper Hewitt. image ©MAIERMOUL
Heatherwick Studio: Provocations, at Cooper Hewitt. image ©MAIERMOUL

Provocations is the first museum exhibition to introduce the imaginative work of British designer Thomas Heatherwick and his London-based studio to an American audience. Heatherwick is known for his unique design concepts ranging from products, infrastructure and temporary structures, to large-scale architecture projects around the world.

– Cooper Hewitt introduction

Online Exhibition @CooperHewitt

Thomas Heatherwick Studio: Provocations, at Cooper Hewitt. image ©MAIERMOUL
Heatherwick Studio: Provocations, at Cooper Hewitt. image ©MAIERMOUL

Ever since I was little, I’ve been interested in ideas, so I hope that’s what links together this collection of projects. I’ve never seen these as different disciplines. The interest is in the world that surrounds us and why things exist–

In Shanghai we won the competition to represent, or somehow communicate, Britain at the world’s largest Expo. We had half the estimated budget of the other Western nations. There were going to be 250 pavilions there, more than you could see even if you spent four months there. But we were told, “You’ve got to be in the top five.” That was in the British government’s brief. That was the most useful bit of the brief.

The building moved in the wind and it’s the only project we’ve done that looks more like a render than the render. It was silvery and soft and because it was soft, it absorbed sound, so there was this underlying silence. It was just like when it snows.

If we’d spent our budget making a football pitch-sized building, we wouldn’t have had any money left for content. By making it only a sixth of the site, you suddenly get the perception of proportion.

– Thomas Heatherwick interview, Dezeen, with Marcus Fairs

To make architecture with any real value is a massive challenge. The great hurdle is always opportunity and that only comes by accumulating some sort of track record.

It isn’t just about splashing money, either. There’s an assumption that if something is visually appealing it must come with a blank chequebook, but we’ve never worked on projects like that.

Most of our sideways thinking goes on trying to find ways to make something affordable or achievable within very tight budgetary constraints. I value ideas more than money and most of our projects are actually made from very low-cost materials.

I’m interested in pursuing ideas and ideas don’t have a style. I haven’t had a chance to reflect on the exhibition or the book that it triggered. This year feels to me like drawing a line under something and I’m excited by that thought of a next phase. It surprises me seeing people that I admire getting stuck at certain points in their career, mainly because I have a paranoia about that. I hope that’s healthy, but I believe in worrying, it drives a lot of what we do. I worry when my team don’t worry.

– Thomas Heatherwick interview, TimeOut London, with Ossian Ward

Thomas Heatherwick Studio: Provocations, at Cooper Hewitt. image ©MAIERMOUL
Thomas Heatherwick Studio: Provocations, at Cooper Hewitt. image ©MAIERMOUL

My work always comes down to the human scale. I’m really interested in how you think strategically—do large-scale planning but also stay sensitized to ambience and creating spaces that human beings feel comfortable in.

I have a strong sense that every project is an invention, which is not a word I hear being used in architecture courses.

When things look like they’re trying to be fun, I have a slight wariness—it’s fun, kids! I’m interested in how you underpin things with a kind of gravity. If you manage that gravity, your designs can be as light as you want.

– Thomas Heatherwick interview, Architectural Digest

Thomas Heatherwick Studio: Provocations, at Cooper Hewitt. image ©MAIERMOUL
Heatherwick Studio: Provocations, at Cooper Hewitt. image ©MAIERMOUL