Heatherwick Studio: Designing the Extraordinary

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Video Transcript

(V/O) Thomas Heatherwick, founder Heatherwick Studio

For me every one of our projects is a research and development project. Everything that we start is something that we don’t know what the outcome is going to be.


Thomas Heatherwick

We have a workshop, machines and equipment and things to try materials out on. We have people who are skilled in researching processes and techniques, so it’s the most exciting thing to embark on something where you don’t know what the outcome will be.  We’re not interested in having a style or something. For us the task is to invent a solution that is right for the particular place. It’s a scary process, there are so many unknowns and it doesn’t mean it’s always alright in the end, you have to be on your toes all the time to try to make the most of the possibilities that a project can offer and that’s what we feel our job is to try to do.


Stuart Wood, Head of Innovation

I think one of the challenges that the studio enjoys to take on is to apply interest into areas that are typically unloved, so there are now fashions to doing very cool bridges, but when we worked on the rolling bridge there weren’t many bridges that opened in a particularly interesting way. The bridge in Paddington is very, very simple. When it’s operating as a bridge it’s very unassuming, because the way in which it opens is the theatrical part. The reason it’s theatrical is because the bridge curls up into a ball and when it’s fully opened its two ends touch they almost kiss together. It’s a really strange thing for a bridge to do and the really nice thing about it is the bridge is completely silent and it’s almost magic.


This object here is a descendant of that small bridge and in a way this is really where we’d like to take the idea next and the way in which it works is it’s almost like 4 rolling bridges put together, but instead of using hydraulics it uses a much more simple system almost of a counter weight or a clock weight. The rolling bridge in Paddington curls into a ball, whereas this one is more like a snail rolling on top of itself and curling up.


Thomas Heatherwick

Getting the chance to design the bus was so special for the studio because London’s Transport Authority hasn’t commissioned a bus design for over 50 years. It felt like there were all these challenges and opportunities, where we want to get wheelchair uses on to buses and we want to get mother’s with buggies and we know that to be reliable with the quantity of traffic on London’s streets, we can’t just have one door onto the bus so that everybody waits in a queue. We need a bus with three doors so that people can quickly load and unload. It comes down to all the details…what are you going to press? What’s the bell push to stop the bus? And what are steps that you’re going to walk up and how’s the window? And where’s your elbow? Do you bash your head on the edge? So our sense was that it was going to be a collection of details and it wasn’t going to be about one big idea, we needed to have a philosophy that was going to permeate through and inform all of these details.


It’s thrilling to have this chance to have this exhibition at the V&A now. The studio will have been going for 18 years at the opening of the exhibition, but we feel that we’ve only really just got started and we’re really getting going and that has to be a long-term ambition. It feels like you have to be a long distance runner and we’re just getting the chance to embark on that. When you actually go out into the world most of the places that you experience are pretty low-quality, everywhere, so there’s so much possibility everywhere to make things better. So I suppose I see the next 18 years of the studio, if I’m lucky enough to be continuing to do this, as just trying to really take forward some of the ideas that we’ve only really just started thinking about and push and use any influence that we do have to try and make special projects happen. 


Heatherwick Studio is a wonderful place where almost anything can happen. V&A Channel visited the studio, and spent some time with the founder, the maverick Thomas Heatherwick, and head of innovation, Stuart Wood, to discuss projects past and present, and how Heatherwick Studio developed their extraordinary approach to design.

Purchase Tickets to
Heatherwick Studio: Designing the Extraordinary
31 May - 30 September 2012
Sponsored by Ernst & Young

Heatherwick Studio is a wonderful place where almost anything can happen. V&A Channel visited to discuss projects past and present and how they developed their extraordinary approach...