If the London Design Medal has anything to do with creative contribution to London then Heatherwick fulfils the brief. The redesigned Routemaster bus created by Heatherwick Studio is due to hit the streets of the capital next month and while the jury may be out on that, the Rolling Bridge at Paddington Basin, completed in 2004, has proved a great success.
But it is the UK Pavilion for the 2010 Shanghai Expo that has won Heatherwick the most plaudits, blending architectural elegance, new materials and environmental features seemlessly into what was voted the best pavilion at the expo. Dubbed the ’Seed Cathedral’, it features fibre-optic rods, each containing a seed that will live on on the site after the event. This should do more for London’s standing – and the UK’s – as a centre for creative thinking and great design than, say, the bus.
There is a strong sculptural bent to Heatherwick’s work, notably the pebble-like East Beach Cafe at Littlehampton in West Sussex. But while he famously blends architecture with industrial design, there can also be a graphic quality to his work and a strong sense of place-making – witness the bone-like facade of Harvey Nichols that won him a D&AD Yellow Pencil in 1997.
For all his success, Heatherwick has tasted failure, with Manchester’s B of the Bang sculpture for the 2005 Commonwealth Games dropping spikes and needing to be dismantled. He has had projects shelved and faced the downturn affecting all studios. But the work is always fresh and challenging, honed to precision, and an exemplary totem for UK design.