“Gercha, cop a loada Eeevnin’ Standaard Gov’ reeedallabowtit!” The capitol’s purveyors of literary sustenance have never had such a sophisticated platform from which to tout their wares. This commission could easily have resulted in an organic white gloss pod-like structure (Zaha Hadid would almost certainly have answered the brief in this manner) but instead, we find Thomas Heatherwick’s Paperhouse making an appearance in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.
This new urban structure looks like a cross between a bee hive, a tub of luxury ice cream and a bus shelter from the set of Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’. Somehow this all feels sympathetically in-keeping with London’s architectural surroundings and receives attention for all the right reasons.
Overnight, the Paperhouse provides an enclosed vandal-proof shell, then as trading begins, the curved brass outer panels slide open on rails to reveal a staggered shelving arrangement, the relevance of the stepped external shape now becoming clear.
This designer is no stranger to small outdoor enclosures. ‘Sitooterie’ tops my list of Heatherwick projects. A small cube-like structure with a name derived from the Scottish – to ‘sit oot’, providing a place to contemplate the world whilst surrounded by 5000 thin metal tubes. The tips of each tube are glazed with transparent orange acrylic and allow light to travel in both directions – into the cube during the day, then a single light source illuminates the outer surface by night.
One of Heatherwick Studio’s latest creations follows a similar theme – the UK Pavillion at the Shanghai 2010 Expo. This develops the angular hedgehog look, channelling light in much the same way only on a much larger scale, £13.2million, 60,000 acrylic strands, 100 person capacity and 6,000 sq m site to be precise.
Each strand moves in the wind and an individual seed from the Kew Gardens millennium seed bank sits at the centre of the cube, illuminated by natural light flowing down the ‘hairs’.
Heatherwick has managed to bestow a genuinely personal touch upon his design projects such as the seaside restaurant, East Beach Café at Littlehampton or the spectacular, fluid central staircase in the Longchamp flagship store, New York. It comes as no surprise that Alan Yentob refers to Heatherwick as the ‘new Leonardo’, Sir Terence Conran is an avid supporter and the RCA graduate was awarded the Prince Philip Designers Prize in 2006.
At the other end of the creative spectrum lies one of Heatherwick’s most recognisable structures – ‘B of the Bang’ This giant spiked ball, conceived as a sculptural celebration of Manchester’s 2002 commonwealth Games, is in the process of being dismantled. After years of protracted legal wrangles and a £1.42m out of court settlement, following several giant skewers falling to the ground, the 180 hollow spikes are to be sent for recycling.
No artist can be considered truly great without some level of controversy. Thomas Heatherwick seems to tick all the boxes – even ones selling newspapers.