Materials House

Artist: Thomas Heatherwick

Cost: £300 000

Contractor: Make Limited

Curator: Dr Susan Mossman

Venue: The Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London SW

What better way of bringing the diversity and range of materials to life than with Thomas Heatherwick’s massive sculpture, which combines no less than 213 different materials in an undulating seven and a half tonne mass.

The Science Museum commissioned Heatherwick to create the Materials House to show off the enormous variety of materials. These range from woods to metals, denim, fun fur, foam, rubber, paper, plastics – there’s even a tiny layer of postage stamps – all built up in custom-cut layers shaped to form contours and all identified in a wall-mounted key. As well as 500 bolts and 6000 screws, each layer is bonded to the next; and a structural layer is incorporated every 20 layers. The 6m x 3m piece, completed this month, is held upright by cables from the ceiling and mounted on the reinforced gallery floor. Heatherwick drew inspiration from geological strata to create a huge sandwich of materials which is contoured to reveal the layers.

The idea, says Dr Susan Mossman of the Science Museum, is to create a ‘tactile and emotional materials experience’, which encourages visitors to touch the exhibit and learn about the materials.

‘What’s amazing about the materials is the smell, the feel and the solidity,’ says Heatherwick, frustrated by the often shallow nature of exhibition design. The lottery-funded project was first conceived more than two years ago as one of a trio of contemporary art projects along with Cornelia Parker and Charlie Hooker. It entailed the task of procuring the plethora of materials and a team of builders using a host of cutting techniques to create more than 1000 templates for the layers. ‘Everyone’s suffered blood, sweat and tears over this one but it’ll really be quite inspiring,’ says Mossman.

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