Visiting the Heatherwick Studio exhibition at the V&A

The OpenIDEO web start-up challenge winners had a London meet up at the V&A museum last weekend for a curated tour of the Heatherwick Studio exhition. We were very lucky to be accompanied by Stefan Ritter, Designer at Heatherwick Studios who took us round his favourite pieces in the exhibition.

V&A exhibition web page

The exhibition contains just one room of artifacts but you could spend hours in there looking at the vast variety of designs. From bridges to handbags to Christmas cards and benches – the exhibition is very inspiring and shows how the studio are experimental and innovative with a range of materials.

The start of the exhibition is where you collect your guide – but not just any old guide – the studio wanted to visually show how much paper is often used for producing show guides.  Here they had 1 tonne of paper stacked up in different diameter rolls to look like pottery on a wheel. The visitor can winde a handle to release the paper strip, then rip it off at the correct point.

Exhibition guide installation

The playfullness of ‘creating’ your own guide is a great way for visitors to interact with the paper they are using. Should you take a guide at all and save on paper or should you take the guide with you with the understanding of how much paper you have taken?

Exhibition guideI thought it interesting to see how visitors then held their guide. Some rolled it up, others folded it neatly and some looped the paper to keep it uncreased.

Exhibition Guide open

The Extruded Bench
The first piece we visited was the extruded bench. Inspired by iBeam contruction, the designer wanted to celebrate the normally discarded end piece of material. When an iBeam is extruded through a tool, the end is irregular and distorted and therefore cut off. A tool was made by the studio and the aluminium pressed through. The result, a beautiful piece of art which creates a bench to be sat on. One end is clearly a highly polished bench while the edges of the end create an interesting, unusual, unpolished shape.

tool and bench drawing

The bench is therefore one piece of solid aluminium. The explanation of the piece said ‘we were interested in consorted forms that emerge as metal is squeezed through a die’ – exquisite!

extruded bench from Heatherwick website

The Rolling Bridge
The next piece we visited was the rolling bridge. It isn’t uncommon to see a bridge that opens up to allow traffic through but this design made a real feature of the folding mechanism. As the bridge lifts up, it rolls back on itself to finally end in a confined octagon. Apparently the rolling bridge can be seen in Canary Wharf…

rolling bridge

The London Bus
I hadn’t appreciated that Heatherwick Studio had designed the new London Route Master bus. It was great to see a cross section on the vehicle and understand about the inspiration for the design.

London Bus from Heatherwick websiteThe studio worked with bus drivers to discover what design changes would make the bus more appealing to them to drive and even had an enthusiastic driver in their studio throughout the process.  Apparently it is important for bus drivers to be able to see children and people misbehaving on the bus, therefore the curvature of the interior was designed accordingly.

Passenger flow and air flow were also very important to consider when designing the new bus.

Route Master

Aberystwyth Artists Studios
Heatherwick designed a low cost set of artists studios in Aberystwyth, Wales. A really unusual set of buildings with an intriguing shape made out of crinkled aluminium. The structures are made out of a wooden structure with insultation foam covered by aluminium. The jig that was designed to crinkle the aluminium (to give the material strength) was fascinating. Each piece needed to be pushed through the teeth on the jig to create the unusual shape.

Aberystwyth artist studios from Heatherwick website

Floor tiles
I really liked the floor tiles that Heatherwick had designed for a shopping centre in Hong Kong. The design aimed to allow light to pass through the floors but had to be suitable for people to walk across in a busy environment.

Each tile contains 50 sheets of glass (for health and safety regulations) and a top layer with a non-slip surface on it. The designers used the layered glass and non-slip surface as a feature to create a very eye catching pattern through out the tile.

floor tile

The Science Museum Material House
Material libraries can be a huge database of materials to search through and it can be hard to display materials effectively. The Science Museum commissioned Heatherwick to find an innovative way to display their materials and the result is fantastic.

The Material House layers the materials into a scultpure with each access to the different pieces.

Materials House from the Science Museum website

‘Although the sculpture bears no resemblance to a conventional house, it playfully invites the viewer to reflect on how these materials are used in everyday life, suggesting there are no boundaries to the versatility of materials. The vibrantly coloured curving layers of Materials House give a feast for the eye, hand and imagination.’ Science Museum website

Seed Cathedral
The last piece to feature from the exhibition (but definitely not the last at the exhibition!) was the Seed Cathedral, designed by a nine member conglomeration of British business and government resources directed by designer Thomas Heatherwick. It referenced the race to save seeds from round the world in banks, and housed 60,000 plant seeds at the end of acrylic rods, held in place by geometrically-cut holes with the rods inserted therein. WikiPedia

Seed Cathedral from the Heatherwick website

Each acrylic rod was held in a wood structure with a transparent end to allow light in and a seed holder at the other to show case seeds from around the world.

The exhibition is on until 30th September and I highly recommend a visit. A good hour will allow you to look at each piece on display but a couple of hours will allow you to properly absorb the beautiful pieces on show. The prototypes and models that accompany each piece really interested me. A finished product is always good to see but understanding the idea behind the product and seeing how it has developed from a concept really fascinates me.

I was unfamiliar with Heatherwick Studio work before I attended the exhibition – now I’m very impressed with the innovative use of materials, pushing of design boundaries and imagination that has gone into each project.

Group photo outside the exhibiton

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