Thoughts on a lecture by Eliot Postma of Heatherwick Studios

Thomas Heatherwick was not an architect.

One interesting fact from a lecture by Eliot Postma of Heatherwicks followed by the statement that not having the ‘baggage’ of architectural education is one of the reasons for his undeniable success. Thomas is a maker. He leads his 200 plus disciples from a collection of buildings in the King’s Cross Development area in central London. The most important place is the workshop. This is what differentiates him from other similarly sized architectural practices in the UK. Postma describes how Heatherwick himself is closely involved with every project in the practice but keen to take on board all good ideas from all sources including a part one student on their first day.

I was first became aware of Thomas Heatherwick after seeing his unfolding bridge in the architectural press in 2002 and then his Shanghai Expo Pavillion in 2010 which was surreal and wonderful. More recently I visited the fantastic restoration of Laverstoke Mill and dreamy greenhouses that emerge from the openings of the distillery of Bombay Sapphire Gin- again surreal and wonderful.

Image courtesy of Neil Howard on Flickr under creative commons

Laverstoke Mill is in my neck of the woods. What was an overgrown and much barnacled collection of buildings over a very poor stretch of the river Test is now the home of Bombay Sapphire Gin and is both manufacturing facility, brand flagship and visitor centre. Do go. The most impressive part of the confection is the reinstated and revived river running through the center of the site, seen in the picture above encircling the glasshouses. The chunky and functional Victorian brick industrial buildings form a courtyard from which you can enjoy the view of the Mediterranean and tropical greenhouses. The Greenhouses are really special adn house examples of the plants used in the gin making process. Each piece of glass is a unique 2d Curve formed in a autoclave (glass oven) the glass cannot exceed a 5m radius curve so the building was designed using a scripted process to ensure that each component fell between the specified parameters. There are 750 pieces of glass and 10,258 individual, unique, fixings. Imagine receiving that from Ikea.  The giant Lego set was erected under a tent and Postma explained that he didn’t get to see the completed project in its entirety until it was complete and the tent removed.

 

Takeaway thoughts…

 

When asked how Heatherwick Studios manage to persuade clients to build such great projects that cost so much money Postma talked about the importance of focus and being strategic to deliver special moments. I thought that this was some really tangible advice and hope it may enable me to achieve a little more magic into my own design projects.

 

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