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Thomas Heatherwick

Thomas Heatherwick
Born (1970-02-17) 17 February 1970 (age 46)
Nationality English
Alma mater Manchester Metropolitan University
Occupation Architect
Practice Heatherwick Studio

Thomas Alexander Heatherwick, CBE, RDI (born 17 February 1970) is an English designer and the founder of London-based design practice Heatherwick Studio. Since the late 1990s Heatherwick has emerged as one of Britain’s most gifted and imaginative designers.[1] His innovative approach to design has earned him a reputation as an "ideas engine".[2]

Since 2010 Heatherwick has exhibited projects connected to national or local identity. These include the Olympic Cauldron, the New Routemaster bus, the first new double decker bus commissioned for London in 50 years, and the UK pavilion at Expo 2010.[3] Other notable works include the Garden Bridge, the renovation of Pacific Place, and a plan for a biomass power station in BEI-Teesside.

Heatherwick works with a team of over 150 architects, designers and makers from a combined studio and workshop in King’s Cross, London.[4]


Heatherwick was born in London and studied three-dimensional design at Manchester Polytechnic and at the Royal College of Art, winning several prizes. Whilst Heatherwick was at the RCA he met renowned designer Terence Conran. Conran became a mentor to Heatherwick after seeing his plan for a gazebo made of two, 6m high curved stacks of birch plywood and made its construction possible by inviting Heatherwick to work at his country home. Conran continued to mentor Heatherwick and later described him as "the Leonardo da Vinci of our times".[5]


After graduating from the RCA Heatherwick founded Heatherwick Studio in 1994. The studio is known for its profound commitment to elegant, integrated design solutions and the absolute dedication to materials, research, prototyping, industrial collaboration, tactility, texture - and extraordinary form-making.[6]

Since being founded, the studio has worked with an extensive range of design disciplines, including architecture, engineering, transport and urban planning to furniture, sculpture and product design.[7] The wide range of skill sets found at Heatherwick Studio is a reaction to Heatherwick’s frustration at encountering "sliced-up ghettos of thought" of sculpture, architecture, fashion, embroidery, metalwork, product and furniture design all in separate departments. He considers all design in three dimensions, not as multi-disciplinary design, but as a single discipline: three-dimensional design.[5]

Unlike many architecture practices, Heatherwick Studio does not have a fixed style and focuses on problem solving. He has said: “It is more like solving a crime. The answer is there, and your job is to find it. So we go off and do bits of research that essentially eliminate suspects from the enquiry. And then you follow up leads and gradually narrow down the potential solutions. Ultimately what you’re left with is the answer.”[5]

In 2012, Thames and Hudson published Thomas Heatherwick: Making. The book lays out Heatherwick's inventive body of work so far, each of the more than 140 fully illustrated projects included is accompanied by a text explaining, in Heatherwick’s words, the design question it posed and the creative and practical processes used to address it. The book was an instant sellout on first publication; a second volume was released in 2013 that includes the Olympic Cauldron.[8]

As of July 2013, he is designing, in collaboration with the actress Joanna Lumley a pedestrian bridge across the Thames in London, "Garden Bridge".[9] This is planned to feature trees and gardens.[9][10]

In 2015 he has a number of projects under construction, including a pier on the Hudson River in New York and the Bund Financial Centre in Shanghai, a collaboration with Foster and Partners architects. The British Council are organising a tour of his work around Asia, called 'Inside Heatherwick Studio', curated by Kate Goodwin. [11]

Key works

In 2002 Heatherwick Studio designed The Rolling Bridge as part of a redevelopment of Paddington Basin, which unfolds across the Grand Union Canal every Friday at noon. The bridge folds out of the way of upcoming traffic by curling into an octagon. The bridge consists of eight triangular sections hinged at the walkway level and is connected above by two part links that collapse towards the deck under the control of hydraulic pistons. The Rolling Bridge won the 2005 British Structural Steel Award.[12]

In 2005 Heatherwick Studio completed a futuristic, shell-like East Beach Café at Littlehampton. The large steel structure houses a café by daytime and restaurant in the evening. The concept allowed the steel to rust and the colours to develop over time before being fixed in a transparent oil.[13] The cafe won a RIBA National Award in 2008.[14]

File:UK Pavilion.jpg
UK Pavilion at 2010 Expo, Shanghai.

Heatherwick Studio designed the UK’s Pavilion for the 2010 Expo in Shanghai. The studio’s initial design strategy for the UK Pavilion established three aims to meet the Foreign Commonwealth Office’s key expectation that the pavilion should become one of the five most popular attractions at the Expo, but built using half the budget of other Western nations. The first aim was to design a pavilion whose architecture was a direct manifestation of what it was exhibiting. The second idea was to ensure a significant area of open public space around it so visitors could relax and choose either to enter the pavilion building, or see it clearly from a calm, non-queuing vantage point. And thirdly, it would be unique among the hundreds of other competing pavilions, events and programmes.

Heatherwick Studio sought an approach that would engage meaningfully with Shanghai Expo’s theme of "Better City, Better Life" and stand out from the anticipated trend for technology driven pavilions, filled with audio-visual content on screens, projections and speakers.

In collaboration with a wider project team, the studio developed the idea of the UK Pavilion exploring the relationship between nature and cities. From here came Heatherwick’s idea of involving Kew Gardens' Millennium Seed Bank Partnership whose mission is to collect the seeds of 25% of the world’s plant species by 2020.The design process evolved to produce two interlinked and experiential elements: an architecturally iconic Seed Cathedral, and a multi-layered landscape treatment of the 6,000m2 site.[15]

The Seed Cathedral consisted of over 60,000 25-foot acrylic optic fibers. It housed 60,000 plant seeds at the end of acrylic rods, held in place by geometrically-cut holes with the rods inserted therein.[16]

In the duration of the six-month Expo, more than eight million people went inside the Seed Cathedral, making it the UK’s most visited tourist attraction. At a state ceremony, it was announced that the UK Pavilion had won the event’s top prize, the gold medal for pavilion design.[17]

After the Expo the cathedral’s story continued, and its rods were donated to schools and the World Expo Museum, while others were auctioned for charity.[18]

In 2010 the Mayor of London Boris Johnson announced that Heatherwick Studio would be designing the New Routemaster. The project marks the first time in more than 50 years that TfL has commissioned and overseen the development of a bus built specifically for the capital.[19] A long asymmetric front window provides the driver with clear kerbside views, while a wrapped glazing panel reflects passenger circulation – bringing more daylight into the bus and offering views out over London. By incorporating an open platform at its rear, the bus reinstates one of the much-loved features of the 1950s Routemaster which offered a "hop-on hop-off" service. The design has three doors and two staircases, making it quicker and easier for passengers to board. In engineering terms, the New Routemaster is 15 per cent more fuel efficient than the existing hybrid buses and 40 per cent more efficient than conventional diesel double-deckers.[20]

Designs for the new bus were originally unveiled in May 2010 and a prototype, developed and manufactured by Wrightbus, was launched in December 2011, The first bus entered public service in February 2012 and Transport for London ordered a further 600 buses in September 2012.[21]

Heatherwick has stated that he considers the London buses to be “part of London’s architecture and its infrastructure” and that they represent a “big experimental dimension” of London.[22]

Heatherwick Studio was asked by Danny Boyle to design the London 2012 Olympic cauldron, which was lit during the Opening ceremony of the London Olympics on 27 July 2012.

The cauldron was made of 204 pieces, which were brought into the Olympic Stadium by children representing each team as part of the Parade of nations. These pieces were mounted on stems which, once lit by seven young torchbearers were raised to merge into one huge flame, representing the coming together in peace of each of the 204 countries competing in the Olympic Games and the collaborative human spirit at the heart of the Games.[23]

The copper petals, made at Peterborough-based Contour Autocraft were created by traditionally skilled craftsmen who had previously made body parts for car makers such as Bentley.[24]

After the close of the Games, the petals were sent to each country as a legacy of their sporting achievements in the Games. In total 204 Olympic petals and 164 Paralympic petals were offered to competing nations. On 26 November 2012 the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson personally delivered a lasting memento of London's thrilling Olympic and Paralympic Games to India's medal-winning athletes in Delhi.[25]

B of the Bang, Manchester

Heatherwick’s design for B of the Bang, a £1.42 million 56m-high sculpture of 180 giant steel spikes, was unveiled outside the City of Manchester Stadium in 2005. It was the tallest and possibly most dramatic public sculpture ever erected in Britain.[26] The structure was commissioned to commemorate the 2002 Commonwealth Games and was named after a quote from former Olympic sprint champion Linford Christie and meant to symbolise the burst of energy as an athlete shoots out of the blocks.[27]

Once erected B of the Bang suffered from structural problems, one of its 180 steel spikes dislodged within two weeks, and a further 22 spikes were removed from the sculpture before Manchester City Council decided to put it into storage.[28]

Manchester Council’s decision to dismantle of B of the Bang was controversial. Angel of the North creator Anthony Gormley urged council bosses not to scrap the sculpture and wrote a letter to the Chief Executive of Manchester City Council Sir Howard Bernstein, where he described the 150-tonne landmark as "remarkable, dynamic and engaging.” He stated that "It is a great tribute to Manchester... and to allow it to disappear would be a loss not just of an inspirational artwork but also of the council's nerve."[29]

Manchester City Council responded to the dismantling of the structure by saying, "Thomas Heatherwick's B of the Bang was a magnificent artistic statement and it was regrettable that technical problems undermined that vision."[30]

Another fan of B of the Bang is Danny Boyle, who has said B of the Bang was the inspiration for him asking Heatherwick Studio to design the Olympic Cauldron. When asked why he turned to Heatherwick, he said: “It goes back to the time I spent sitting under his B of the Bang sculpture. I loved it so much; it’s a tragedy they took it down.”[31] Manchester City Council took legal action against Heatherwick studio and their subcontractors, who in November 2008 agreed to pay £1.7 million in damages.[32]

Notable works

File:Angel's Wings Thomas Heatherwick.jpg
Angel's Wings, at Bishops Court near Paternoster Square, London.
File:Hancock Blue Carpet 4346.JPG
At the points where this skin reaches a building the slabs curve upwards to create the sensation of a fabric. Replacement tiles show the colour of the original concept.


In June 2013, New York design studio Ahokia claimed that the design of the Olympics cauldron was identical to something they had presented to the London Olympic committee in 2007. They had not been able to raise the issue until 2013 due to a restrictive non-disclosure agreement that prevented all companies from promoting any work related to the Olympics.[37] However, Heatherwick denied that he had been briefed by the commissioner on Akokia's idea, and was adamant that the cauldron design was his alone, based on a student project he did in 1993.[38] Danny Boyle, artistic director of the opening ceremony, also denied having known about the prior design, while Martin Green, former head of ceremonies of Locog, claimed that the idea came out of discussions between Boyle, Heatherwick and himself.[38] The organisers of the London Olympics later reached an out-of-court settlement acknowledging that several key concepts and design features of the cauldron were proposals submitted by Ahokia. Heatherwick however maintained that the design was his own and not influenced by Ahokia's design.[39]


In 2012 the Victoria and Albert Museum put on a major retrospective of the studio’s work. The exhibition was called "Heatherwick Studio: Designing the Extraordinary".[40]

The exhibition revealed the creative processes and spirit of curiosity of Heatherwick Studio across two decades of projects, spanning the disciplines of architecture, furniture and product design, to engineering, sculpture and urban planning.[41]

Personal life

Heatherwick is married with twins. [42]

In 2015, he was named one of GQ's 50 best dressed British men. [43]


Thomas Heatherwick has won numerous design awards including the Prince Philip Designers Prize (2006), the London Design Medal (2010), the RIBA Lubetkin Prize (2010) for the UK Pavilion. In 2004 he became the youngest practitioner to be appointed a Royal Designer for Industry.[44]

Heatherwick has been awarded Honorary Doctorates from University of the Arts London, the Royal College of Art, University of Dundee, University of Brighton, Sheffield Hallam University and Manchester Metropolitan University.[45]

He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2013 Birthday Honours for services to the design industry.[46]



  1. Art Features (23 May 2012). "Thomas Heatherwick: 'Design is like solving a crime’". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-11-13. 
  2. Daily Telegraph, 25 February 2012
  3. Icon Magazine, July 2012
  4. "Thomas Heatherwick". Global Design Forum. 2012-09-18. Retrieved 2013-11-13. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Nicholas Wroe (18 May 2012). "Thomas Heatherwick: the new Leonardo of design | Art and design". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-11-13. 
  6. "Heatherwick Studio: About the Exhibition - Victoria and Albert Museum". Retrieved 2013-11-13. 
  8. "Essential illustrated art books | Thomas Heatherwick". Thames & Hudson Publishers. Retrieved 2013-11-13. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 "The Unstoppable Thomas Heatherwick". The Culture Show. 2013-07-31. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  10. O'Ceallaigh, John (2013-06-14). "A 'Garden Bridge' across the Thames - Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  11. "Thomas Heatherwick interview: Shanghai, innovation, and wackiness". Vantage Magazine. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  12. Thornhill, Cher. "London Bridge is rolling up: The spectacular Rolling Bridge that unfolds every Friday at noon". Daily Mail. Retrieved 22 September 2008. 
  13. Wroe, Nicholas (18 May 2012). "Thomas Heatherwick: the new Leonardo of design". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 18 May 2012. 
  14. "RIBA". 
  15. Jordana, Sebastian. "UK Pavilion for Shanghai World Expo 2010 / Heatherwick Studio". ArchDaily. Retrieved 3 May 2010. 
  16. "UK Pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010 by Thomas Heatherwick". Dezeen. Retrieved 4 April 2010. 
  17. "Heatherwick Studio website". 
  18. "UK pavilion at Expo 2010". 
  19. "TFL Website". 
  20. "A New Bus for London by Heatherwick Studio". Dezeen. Retrieved 21 December 2011. 
  21. "600 new buses by 2016". Retrieved 18 September 2012. 
  22. "Interview: Thomas Heatherwick". Time Out London. 
  23. Wainwright, Oliver. "The flaming dandelion". BD Online. Retrieved 2 August 2012. 
  24. "Olympic cauldron represents peace says designer Heatherwick". BBC. 28 July 2012. 
  25. "2012 cauldron petals hand-delivered by Mayor to Indian Olympians". Retrieved 26 November 2012. 
  26. Narain, Jaya (2 July 2009). "Britain's tallest comedown: Iconic 'B of the Bang' sculpture is demolished". Daily Mail (London). 
  27. "B of the Bang ends with a whimper as £2m sculpture is sold for £17k scrap". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 4 July 2012. 
  28. "'Bang' sculpture to be taken down". BBC. 11 February 2009. Retrieved 11 February 2009. 
  29. "Gormley's plea on 'bang' landmark". BBC. 22 January 2009. 
  30. "Manchester B of the Bang sculpture core sold for scrap". BBC. 4 July 2012. Retrieved 4 July 2012. 
  31. "Danny Boyle: B of the Bang inspired me to Olympic heights of creativity". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 5 April 2013. 
  32. Grant, Len (2 September 2009). "Last Legs". East. Retrieved 30 March 2010. 
  33. "Carpet" provokes different shades of opinion, Maev Kennedy article on the opening of the Blue Carpet, the Guardian, 26 January 2002
  34. Aberystwyth Arts Centre: History
  35. bdolnine, 22 May 2009, Heatherwick’s shining start-ups open in Aberystwyth
  36. The Guardian, 27 May 2009, Spikes, curls and crinkles
  37. Oliver Wainwright (19 June 2013). "How Olympic cauldron fanned flames of fury at American design studio". The Guardian (London). 
  38. 38.0 38.1 Oliver Wainwright (20 June 2013). "Designers of London Olympic cauldron deny copying claims". The Guardian. 
  39. Oliver Wainwright (23 July 2014). "Row over Olympic cauldron design settled out of court". The Guardian. 
  40. "Heatherwick Studio: About the Exhibition". V&A Website. 
  41. "Heatherwick Studio: Designing the Extraordinary". Dezeen. 
  42. "Dream factory". Financial Times. 17 September 2010. 
  43. "50 Best Dressed Men in Britain 2015". GQ. 5 Jan 2015. 
  44. "Heatherwick Studio: Designing the Extraordinary at the V&A". Dezeen. 2012-05-30. Retrieved 2013-11-13. 
  45. "About « Heatherwick Studio". Retrieved 2013-11-13. 
  46. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 60534. p. 8. 15 June 2013.

External links

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