Heatherwick Studio: Designing the Extraordinary at the V&A

Go, go, go!

This is not another cry of support urging on our Olympic athletes, though Thomas Heatherwick’s breathtaking Olympic cauldron certainly helped set the tone for British achievements at London 2012 (and you can see one of the copper petals close-up at the exhibition).

What I found so stimulating about the exhibition is the Heatherwick approach of starting from the bottom up: experimenting with materials and engineering techniques to see how far they can be pushed, and then finding ways of scaling them up or recreating their forms, often in other materials.

So the Paternoster ventilation ducts were inspired by folding a sheet of A4 paper into isosceles triangles – and then scaling this up to 11 metres of steel (there’s a video of Heatherwick folding the paper in the exhibition).

Paternoster vents (image by antgirl/Flickr)

And a Shingon-hu Buddhist temple in Japan was based on the folds and creases of a rubberised material, while the facade of the Sheung Wan Hotel in Hong Kong resembles a pile of boxes stacked on top of each other.

The extraordinary Bleigiessen sculpture in the Wellcome Trust involved recreating the shape of a molten metal fragment cooled in water, using 150,000 individual glass beads suspended on nearly a million metres of stainless steel wire.

Bleigiessen sculpture (image by Matt from London/Flickr)

Expansion is another theme, from Longchamp’s zip bags, which can be unzipped to grow to twice their size, to furniture that is constructed using a similar pivot mechanism to a garden trellis. And of course there’s the famous Rolling Bridge in Paddington Basin, which curls up into a wheel when boats need to get past.

Rolling Bridge (image by Loz Flowers/Flickr)

In short, this is an exhibition fizzing with inventive ideas, pushed by curiosity about “What if?”.

And don’t miss the chance to have a go in a Spun chair before leaving!

Heatherwick Studio: Designing the Extraordinary runs at the Victoria & Albert Museum until 30 September.

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Flextiles uses shibori, ecoprinting and felting to create original, one-off upcycled pieces. Extending the life of a garment by an extra nine months reduces its environmental impact by 20-30%.

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