The V&A is no stranger to a bumper exhibition (just read this blog to see what they already have on this summer; Ballgowns, British Design and a revamped fashion gallery - you'd swear there was something going on in London this year…) But for design enthusiasts, Thomas Heatherwick's mid-career retrospective, has, strangely for a man who is only in his early forties, been a longtime coming.
The story of the Heatherwick Studio began in 1994, and under Thomas's guidance has gone on to produce some of the design industry's most mind-blowing concepts; the Seed Cathedral at the Shanghai World Expo in 2010 being something of a career high point. The structure was constructed from 60,000 fibre-optic 'strands' which cumulatively took on the appearance of a fragile dandelion. Inside each individual strand was imbedded a different plant seed, and at the close of the Expo a strand was donated to a school in either China or the UK as part of the Royal Horticultural Society's Millenium Seed project. It's apt, but not a coincidence, that Heatherwick struck upon this concept of cross-pollination - as his own inventory style is such a hybrid beast of design principles.
Add to this kind of architectural spectacle, commisions to reinterpret the old London Routemaster bus, a nuclear power plant in Newcastle, a Buddhist temple in Japan, the windows of London's Harvey Nichols department store and the commission to design the Olympic Couldron (the structure which will house the Olympic flame) then you start to get the picture of just how big the studio's scope is.
The big spectacle is something of a Heatherwick calling card, but just as inspiring are the more intimate, small-scale projects. One of which being the 'print your own' exhibition guide for this retrospective, which was inspired by the printing presses and reels of paper that the studio came across while working near a Glasgow newspaper printers. For the V&A The Heatherwick Studio have created a slightly Steampunk-esque version, where by vistors have to crank the arm to reel off a strip of the exhibition guide.
So you see, it's not just architecture that the Heatherwick Studio does so cleverly; its also construction and engineering, sculpture, installation, and in some cases, maybe even gardening…That's the thing with Heatherwick - he's not a person you can contain or categorise. He's a real life Renaissance Man.
Heatherwick Studio runs until September 30th at the V&A, London