Thursday, 7 March 2013


It's World Book Day  so I felt I really ought to blog, today of all days. Over the last week I have been reading Making by Thomas Heatherwick. Not one I have read from cover to cover but then this is a huuuuge tome of a book! It's certainly not one to pop in your bag to read on the bus. No, I think it falls squarely into the category of coffee table books, one to dip in and out of.  I can promise you that almost at whatever page you open, you will be in for a treat.

I have long been a fan of Thomas Heatherwick's work, the B of the Bang; the Rolling Bridge of Paddington Basin, so when this book was published it was simply a matter of when I would be buying it rather than if.  Luckily a birthday book token took the guilt out of the expensive purchase and I wasn't disappointed. (Look here for a video of the Rolling Bridge in action)

Heatherwick came to worldwide attention at the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony with his Olympic cauldron (apparently known as Betty). It was a characteristically, clever and beautiful design.

 Sadly the edition of the book I bought doesn't include the Olympic projects as they were TOP SECRET and this book was published to coincide with an exhibition at the V&A which took place before the cauldron was unveiled.  There are so many other things to gaze at and admire here that I hardly feel the absence.

File:Olympics Closing Ceremony - Extinguishing of the Cauldron (2).jpg

The Heatherwick Studio produces work ranging from huge architectural designs through to furniture, electricity pylons and lately the new design for the much loved and missed old Routemaster buses in London.  You name it really, they pretty much turn their hands to anything that is asked of them.

The book is arranged chronologically with a few pages given over to each project, each in response to a question.
  • How can an electron microscope help to design a building?
  •  Can you flat-pack a ten-metre-high sculpture? 
  • Can a bridge borrow its structure from nearby buildings? 
  • Can a tower touch the sky gently? 
  • Can you squeeze a chair out of a machine, the way you squeeze toothpaste out of a tube?  

Each one describes the design brief and the sources of inspiration and gives a real insight into the imaginative workings of the Heatherwick studio.

My favourite of all - How can a building represent a nation? - resulted in the UK Pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai, China in 2007. The studio were charged with making a building that would be in the top five. Of course it came top.

The theme of the Expo was "Better City, Better Life".  Heatherwick decided to consider the relationship of cities and nature. London being the home of the world's first major botanical institution, Kew Gardens it seemed appropriate to create a magnificent seed cathedral.  This quite spectacular building  graces the front of the book, (see top of the post!) and is simply sublime. How frustrating that it had such a limited existence!   

The Seed Cathedral illustrates perfectly how complete their thinking is. From inspiration - the opening sequence of  the 1985 film Witness in which the camera pans across fields of grass buffeted by the wind; to choice of materials - 60,000 acrylic rods, holding the seeds; how it sat in the landscape - on grey astroturf - arranged to look like a crumpled sheet of paper opened up like wrapping paper to sugggest that the Pavilion was a gift from the UK to the China; how it looked during the day and night;  how people would interact with it - not a single aspect was overlooked.  The building was an absolute triumph.  Follow the link to see Heatherwick talk about the making of the Seed Cathedral on TEDTV (and if you haven't come across the TED talks before, then you're in for a treat).

I could go on about this book all day, suffice to say the extraordinary range of ideas and materials and the impressive thoughtfulness and attention to detail shown here makes me a firm believer that Thomas Heatherwick qualifies as a bone fide National Treasure! You may not like all the designs, but I challenge you to spend just 5 minutes with this book and not come away seized by the urge to go create something yourself.

One of the Heatherwick Studios Christmas card designs. Source: Making.
 I for one, would give an awful lot to be on their Christmas card list! So go on, beg, borrow or st.. no, don't do that, save up and buy this beautiful source of  class A imaginative genius.

Making : Thomas Heatherwick. Thames & Hudson.  Making
A new edition is to be published in May 2013 which will include the Olympic projects.

Some more design books you might like 

 The Genius of Design   - a BBC tie-in which traces the history of design and this one which I borrowed from our local library
Twentieth Century Design which illustrates 200 of the most popular and groundbreaking "future classics" of design, from architecture, urban planning and interiors through lighting, furniture and homeware to products and visual communication.

Books Bought 0 : Books read 9 (if flicking through counts!) 

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