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Cooper Hewitt Pulls Back the Curtain on Heatherwick Studio

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To the average American, the name "Thomas Heatherwick" likely doesn't ring as many bells as does, say, the name "Frank Gehry." But the 45-year-old Renaissance Man, whose London-based design firm Heatherwick Studio has taken on a number of high-profile (and controversial) projects across the United States of late, seems ready for that to change. Though his work gained some traction with U.S. audiences when his firm designed the cauldron for the 2012 Olympics in London, the ephemerality of that design—and much of the studio's work—hasn't helped cement Heatherwick's spot in the American popular imagination. A new retrospective at the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York is another sure-footed step in that direction. Though there was no news to report about the state of Heatherwick's controversial Garden Bridge in London or equally fraught Pier55 Park in New York, here are 4 things we learned about Heatherwick and his oeuvre at a preview of his new Cooper Hewitt retrospective, "Provocations: The Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio."

Heatherwick's team, determined to create a unique gallery experience, did away with traditional exhibition brochures in favor of a towering "brochure machine" which was crank-operated by each individual museum-goer. This had the benefit of being very fun but also introducing visitors first thing to the mechanical, whimsical nature of Heatherwick Studio's work. The idea for the brochure machine came from the printing process at a Glasgow newspaper.


Ever the Renaissance Man, Heatherwick designed in 2010 a new bus for the city of London, which debuted in December 2011. His views on striking out beyond "traditional" architecture in the form of building design can be summed up as the following. You tell 'em.


Film director and 2012 Olympics maestro Danny Boyle commissioned Heatherwick Studio to create the 2012 Olympic cauldron, which, when it was finished, consisted of 204 petal-shaped torches made of copper and mounted on long poles. What we didn't know was that the cauldron's location, smack-dab in the middle of the main Olympic stadium rather than on its roof as was initially expected, was a reference to a hearth at a Benedictine monastery that Heatherwick Studio had been working with on a separate project.

Installation is in progress for "Provocations: The Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio," opening June 24. The exhibition is the first 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, including the Teesside Power Station, Middlebrough, England, a 1:850 scale model of which is shown here. The unrealized biomass power station on the Tees River houses equipment in a single, elegant structure, while noise-dampening planted slopes create a park. The studio envisions the building as a museum of power as well as a public venue, with multipurpose spaces for community events. #cooperhewitt #heatherwickstudio

A photo posted by Cooper Hewitt (@cooperhewitt) on


The British pavilion at the Shanghai Expo in 2010—a project that put Heatherwick Studio on the map for the uninitiated when it won the top prize for pavilion design there—comprised 66,000 acrylic rods.

Barry Diller-Funded Pier55 Plan: Pocket Gadget, Meme-tecture, or Something More Nefarious? [Curbed]
Heatherwick Studio [Heatherwick Studio]
Cooper Hewitt [Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum]