I’ll admit Thomas Heatherwick’s name has skittered across my design radar for a while without really finding purchase. It was my look into his collaboration with Amsterdam-based Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) for a pair of Google headquarters buildings in London and Silicon Valley that caused my architectural stars to align on Heatherwick. Some of you may have seen his Provocations show at the Nasher in 2014.
Armchair Olympic hopefuls will have seen his work designing the flame and cauldron for the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympic Games. That design included a circular fan of “petals” representing each participating nation that were lit and mechanically raised into a cauldron – symbolically bringing together the member nations in competition (see the cauldron lighting ceremony).
The Rolling Bridge above was completed in 2004 as part of a revitalization of the Paddington Basin area of London. It’s one of two pedestrian bridges built within the mixed commercial-residential project. Both bridges are as much for art as utility. The other is called the Fan Bridge. It has five fan blades that open like an Asian fan (see both in action in two minutes).
Pier 55: New York
All architects have projects that never make it off the drawing board. Two spectacular Heatherwick park-like projects were abandoned in New York and London. Above was the proposal for Pier 55. A stilted park on the Hudson River near New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. Privately funded by Barry Diller and fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg, the hugely popular project ground to a halt under the weight of opposition lawsuits. Who living or visiting New York wouldn’t have visited Pier 55?
Garden Bridge: London
The other project was to have been called Garden Bridge, and stationed over the Thames River in London. It was a wide pedestrian bridge covered in greenery. Unlike New York, Garden Bridge’s problem was money. The planned private funding only materialized a third of what was required to construct the over £200 million bridge.
Vessel: New York
Returning to New York, the nearly complete Vessel is a freestanding series of staircases and observation decks anchoring a public plaza within the Hudson Yards development on the west side of Manhattan. Called “Vessel” for obvious reasons, it’s a 150 foot tall honeycomb of staircases that when strung together are more than a mile long. For those still tirelessly FitBitting, there are 2,500 individual steps to climb. For those with mobility issues or more modest goals, there is an elevator.
Heatherwick’s inspiration, as if you’d not already guessed, was endless staircase artist M.C. Escher’s work. The individual sections for the 154 interconnected stair flights were manufactured in Italy, lifted off barges and trucked through Manhattan streets in the dead of night. I’ll see if January’s “nearing completion” news has been completed for next month’s Big Apple visit.
Hudson Residences: New York
At the other end of the High Line park in Chelsea, work has begun on Heatherwick’s Hudson Residences, which are separated by the park. As you can see, the most striking element are the windows. It looks as if someone inflated a balloon inside the concrete, gridded exterior to create the bulging effect.
Seen up close, the windows are more of a geometric/crystalline take on the lowly bay window. In tucking in at the top and bottom, residents will be able to stand in the window and see not only left and right as in a traditional bay, but also up and down, giving almost a floating feeling. Some have labeled these as pillow windows, but I prefer bulging – like the entire building is trying to blow a soap bubble.
It’s worth noting that New York’s High Line has become a magnet for new starchitect-designed residential and commercial buildings from the likes of Heatherwick and Zaha Hadid. While in Dallas, the Katy Trail continues to be lumbered by the unimaginative.
Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa and Silo Hotel: Cape Town, South Africa
The Victoria and Alfred (Victoria’s son) Waterfront dates to the first fresh water and resupply depot setup in 1654 for Dutch East India Company ships journeying to the Far East. As a midshipman, Alfred dropped the first load of stone off the breakwater in 1860 to get the modern harbor going. After gradually falling into disuse, plans were hatched to revitalize the 304-acre waterfront beginning in the late 1990s.
The grain silo above opened in 1924 and ceased operation in 2003. Heatherwick’s challenge was how to repurpose 42 cylindrical grain silos along with a largely windowless tower that sits on the shore. The answer came in two parts.
The result transforms the exterior while retaining its industrial past. The bulging windows seen in New York were first used in The Silo Hotel project. Windowless spaces are balconies. The rooftop offers an infinity pool and outdoor lounge.
I know it has nothing to do with the architecture, per se, but being tall and located on the waterfront, the hotel looks back at the city and Table Mountain (climbed that). It’s a modern interpretation of what ships from centuries past must have seen.
Kush Hotel: Hong Kong (Unbuilt)
Imagine this 400-foot tall skyscraper being added to the Dallas skyline. While reminiscent of the Ole Scheeren-designed MahaMakhon tower in Bangkok, Kush would have definitely been more three-dimensional.
Instead of MahaMakhon’s spiral of cutaways, Kush would have been solidly articulated top-to-bottom. Kush was also not a curtain-wall glass building, with many of its block cutaways being solid. This would have focused the eye to the windowed spaces, highlighting our perception of its irregular surface.
Bombay Sapphire Distillery: Hampshire, England (2014)
I’ve not been a gin drinker since a brief dalliance with “pine trees” (gin and tonics) in college. But I’d sure trek the 65 miles from London to see the reimagining of this 23-building, 300-year-old paper mill. I didn’t start with the sexy pictures because you need to understand the layout. The main distillery is located in one of those mill buildings (left) and huge glass and steel “umbilical” cords race out of its upper windows to explode into a pair of green houses.
Looking more Doctor Who than distillery, steel and glass jut from the building in a frenzy.
They curve out and towards the ground, detonating into alien hands.
The result are two dramatic greenhouses at the edge of a pond. And there’s meaning to the greenhouses. One contains a tropical habitat while the other a Mediterranean one. Why? Both climates produce the herbs and botanicals required to make Bombay Sapphire gin.
If you whip back to the first graphic, you will now also notice the air flow arrows. Excess heat from the distillation process is recirculated to maintain the temperature in the green houses. The ingredients in the gin are nourishing the ones in the greenhouses. Pretty ingenious, right?
Bund Financial Center: Shanghai, China
This project, a collaboration of Heatherwick and Foster + Partners, consists of multiple buildings in Shanghai on the Huangpu River. While the tallest structures are nearly 600 feet tall, it’s one diminutive building that grabs the attention.
The Cultural Center houses performance spaces behind its multilayered, rolling curtain of stylized bamboo. Go ahead, compare the first photo with the one above. The same angle, but the curtain has moved.
Behind the curtain is an outdoor space where visitors can interact with the slowly moving, sometimes swaying sculpture.
It’s all accomplished with a series of five ingenious tracks containing differing sizes and lengths of “bamboo” running along the recessed roofline. This eight-second video shows the building in motion.
Heatherwick Studios has an impressive book of work both complete and sadly abandoned. It’s easy to see Heatherwick’s organic leanings in his buildings. But that language isn’t so specific that you can spot one of the firm’s projects from a mile away. Like all great architecture firms, viewers know a building is special without knowing specifically who did it.
Great buildings must all hold the eye, however Heatherwick structures often have a second sensory layer asking the viewer to experience, touch and interact with them. Of course this is partly because Heatherwick designs skew towards public versus private spaces. Imagine his design for a deck park in Dallas or if he were asked to resuscitate Fair Park. Gosh.
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with three Bronze (2016, 2017, 2018) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards. Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make? Shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.