Thomas Heatherwick Founder of Heatherwick Studio

Posted on 08 April 2020

Hi, I am Susan Freeman, welcome back to our PropertyShe podcast series brought to you by Mishcon de Reya in association with the London Real Estate Forum where I get to interview some of the key influencers in the world of real estate and the built environment.  The current situation means we are now recording digitally so please do bear with us if the sound quality isn’t up to our usual studio standard.  Today I am thrilled to welcome Thomas Heatherwick, CBE.  Thomas is a leading British designer whose prolific and varied work over two decades is characterised by its ingenuity, inventiveness and originality.  Defying the conventional classification of design disciplines, Thomas founded Heatherwick Studio in 1994 to bring the practices of design, architecture and urban planning together in a single workspace.  Based in King’s Cross, London, Heatherwick Studio is currently working on thirty projects in ten countries.  The Studio has most recently completed a new public centrepiece for Hudson Yards in New York, The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town and Coal Drops Yard, a major new retail district, in King’s Cross London.  Thomas is a CBE, a Royal Academician and in 2004 became the youngest Royal Designer for Industry.  He was also awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the RIBA and an Honorary Diploma for the Architectural Association in recognition of his contribution to the industry.  So, now we are going to hear from the extremely talented Thomas Heatherwick on his unique approach to design and about some of the many projects his studio has been working on.  Thomas, good morning.  I am not entirely sure in this, you know, this strange time where you are talking to me from so, where are you this morning?

Thomas Heatherwick

Good morning, Susan.  I am working from home and I have got a workspace based in my bedroom so, it was the quietest place I have got as a study to work from during these unusual times that we are living through at the moment as my team – 210 people – are all working remotely so, I am having amazing connections with our commissioners around the world and my team and quietly we are working on the construction world that takes so long and happens and involves large amounts of money and, yes, I am working in my bedroom so, it’s that dichotomy, the duality that I am finding also very moving actually in this time when we are more divided from each other there is actually an incredible intimacy as you, collaborators who you have worked with maybe for ten/fifteen years, I have never actually seen their living room or their bedroom or things like that and so we’re, there’s this sort of sharing of another side of ourselves that I am finding very moving. 

Susan Freeman

And there is something sort of quite poetic about that because I know you have said that your studio in many ways resembles your bedroom when you were growing up, you know, collecting objects and things so, to actually hear you say you are working from your bedroom, is fantastic. 

Thomas Heatherwick

Well, I’ve moved into a new house so my bedroom is waiting the onslaught of objects and things; at the moment it is quite plain. 

Susan Freeman

I know that you like to collaborate in the way you work and you don’t like to work alone so, do you feel that with technology you are as connected with your team as you would be in normal times? 

Thomas Heatherwick

The last twenty years since the digital revolution, the world has conspired to invent ways for us to stay at home, whether that’s ways that you can buy your food from home, study from home, collaborate from home, listen to incredible qualities of things, watch incredible things from your home where we used to have a co-public life that meant you had to go to a cinema or you had to be all together or you had to go to a shop to buy clothes or food or University to study and so, the fact that actually the last twenty years have been growing the infrastructure to be able to allow so many of us to be able to now relatively friction free compared to what would have happened twenty years ago suddenly and here we are, you and I are now… you’re carrying on as usual, you’re recording your broadcasts and we carry on and in a sense without a commute and very direct and immediate and true somehow.  And I am finding with my team, we are having many design sessions together and we are fuelled by the cultural connection that we have had from the physical environments of our studio and the way we have worked together over more than two decades and many of my colleagues, we’ve worked together for a long time so, I guess I don’t believe that you can grow relationships remotely in any way really compared to the physical environment of being together but you can sustain things, I think, far longer than we would have imagined we could and so we are very familiar with each other or with our teams in the studio so, some of the team have been very very effective and it’s possible to just very directly and I think as we’re in… it’s certainly allowing us the drawing together which some of the video conferencing software allows you to draw together, is more effective than some of the ways we were drawing together in previous modes of doing design reviews so I am trying to find all the positives and allow that to percolate through so, so far we are being able to be productive and we’ve also had new projects beginning as well which has been nice because I guess the cycle of property and workplace and physical environments takes so many years that a six month major disruption still is a small percentage of you know some of the projects we are working on which have timelines of six, seven, eight and more years.

Susan Freeman

Yes, I think that’s true especially, you know, I know you are based in King’s Cross in terms of, you know quite long timelines for a development that has been a really long-term project for Argent and I think you founded your Studio at the age of 24 so, you’ve been going for a couple of decades and when you started the Studio, what was the ethos?  What was made you decide you had to go and start your own sort of business at that age when it would have been easier to just, you know, go and, you know, learn your trade with somebody else?   

Thomas Heatherwick

I mean, words like ‘disrupt’ weren’t used then and in1994, and words like ‘invent’ weren’t really used then either and I suppose I felt there was a gap, there was a missing space which was, there was one mindset about how you saw public space, there was one mindset about how you saw sculpture, there was one mindset about how people thought of buildings, a mindset about landscape design and that there was space between all of that that was missing so I have always been interested in the gaps rather than thinking, you know, I am a better designer, I am a better architect or something like that, my interest was the gaps between things and I didn’t know, I didn’t know who to work for, you know, in a sense I felt unemployable because I felt that there were silos and mindsets about different ways of seeing the world and that actually the world was more connected and the built environment could take more ideas and the idea that you build a building and then you stick a piece of art in front of it rather than the buildings that seemed valuable to me as I was growing up and that I felt society cherished, were buildings where artistic thinking was an integral part of their creation, there wasn’t this sort of sterility and monotony and then an artwork slammed in front or, did someone use that expression, ‘The turd in the bars acts’ 8.52 things like these mindsets that made really non-humanly sustaining environments so I felt there was space for more human-centred public experienced, thinking about the emotion of the public rather than the emotion of the genius creator and so I was intri… it felt like there was this gap and that’s the only way to pursue that was to try to set up on my own and of course I was by myself and I had the notion, Conservative Britain I had been brought up with, in those days was… felt it was about retreating to the past and it felt like it was the safe thing was to just copy the past, some instinct in me felt that that was really wrong and that that was just a backlash against the post-war construction that had been insensitive to people, I think but that was, had happened for a specific reason, you know, there was this imperative to create housing and re-build cities and there was a cheap way to do it that had come out from this mindset that modernism had created but I think we have seen that there was much that was right about that but that there was also much that was really wrong about that so, that is exciting and when you see a need it's very exciting and you don’t, have no idea how you are going to have a chance to make a difference but your passion is just to make a difference, so dumb sounding. 

Susan Freeman

And, you were talking about the sort of buildings that you saw when you were growing up.  Were you exposed to, you know, design and architecture or was this something that just came to you?

Thomas Heatherwick

I had very varied and different influences and my grandfather’s house had had a really interesting, an architect had done a very interesting renovation of the house and so there was the juxtaposition of a Victorian terrace in Camden Town with an extraordinary interior with spatial voids and gaps that linked between floors that were exciting and you had to make sure you didn’t knock his pencil holder off an edge that would fall down into a kitchen through a gap and a void and so I was also around people who were interested in, I mean my grandfather was very interested in the impact of the Industrial Revolution and the innovators who had driven that and he was a writer and a poet and a Communist and he in a way instilled in me a sense of the thrill of improvement and trying to make things work better and bringing society together more and he was very interested in the miners and their trying to fight against elitism and so that was very influential for me and then my father was very interested in, well he studied child development and was very interested in how you nurture the creativity within people and so I guess I was unwittingly a Guinea pig in that there were people interested in how you help a child to find their potential and I was no high achiever and young talent particularly but I was very interested in, and curious about, how things were made and I was lucky to be taken to Architectural Degree shows, to Milton Keynes quite early as a, I think I was about eleven or something, I was taken to a Housing of the Future exhibition, I can’t remember which year exactly it was but there was really idealistic houses being built as prototypes to look at what the future could be but equally I was just as interested in what was the design of cars and the different technics being used so I saw it all together, I didn’t see buildings and cities and automotive or infrastructure or craft or engineering as separate things, it seemed to be one thing and I found it amusing that we’d somehow gone backwards to chop it up into all these separate mindsets when actually some of the things that we cherish, the things that Brunel did, where Brunel was making Paddington Station and making trains and train lines but also making them beautiful and it’s, I think it’s such a shame that it’s the mindset of in relation to engineers, structural engineers, is that they are, they are your technicians to make your artistic vision work rather than artistically-minded people too and that’s an integra… there isn’t this thing which is being a serious designer and then a separate thing called aesthetics and anyone who is really good, is thinking about the economics, the sustainability, the planning ability, the societal impact, all of those things are trying to be held… to try to hold those different thoughts and pieces of development together and not somehow palm them off in different ways and that’s the world I was seeing that I felt critical of, it was clear had been part of the problem but because it was being thought of in chopped up bits.

Susan Freeman

Well that’s so interesting because if you, you know, if you go back through the centuries to a sort of Leonardo da Vinci type approach, it is just, you know, looking at all sorts of different things and ideas and, you know, creativity and I know your approach to design has been described as focussing on problem solving.  How does that work if, you know, somebody comes to you with a new project?  Do you look for the problem?  Do you get your team together?  How do you actually deal with it?

Thomas Heatherwick

It’s an amazing piece of trust when somebody comes to you and asks you to do something and so we feel an immense responsibility and actually we feel even more weight of responsibility when something isn’t a competition, you know the way there’s this thing, everyone is always, I mean in public projects it’s totally understandable why they have to go out to public procurement but private projects, certainly some of the things that are just constantly in these design competitions and the thing that’s a shame is that you can’t really grow a scheme with your commissioners and often your commissioners are experts in their area and so the best projects you really grow together, you grow the right scheme but my sense is that your role is to be, there’s the overarching problem that someone has come to you with that then within that you are trying to find what the real problem to solve is and so what I mean by that is where the focus is, there’s never enough money in any project so you’ve always got tight resources that you are trying to make work most effectively for something and I am trying to think of an example, for example if we go back, I am only saying this because it is an easy one to explain, when we worked on the UK Pavilion, we won the competition to build the British Pavilion in Shanghai at the World Expo and the brief from the Government was quite a long brief explaining that they wanted the British Pavilion to communicate about how Britain’s tourism industry is, how our economic climate is, how our society is diverse, they wanted to communicate about the heritage of kings, castles, queens, royalty, premiership football, beef, teabags, rain, you know it was just… so there was this brief that was kind of ‘cover everything’ but we actually had half the budget of the other western nations and we all had the same size site which was approximately a football pitch, 100 metres by 60 metres, but we had half the budget of the other western nations and so once you say okay, there’s going to be a million people coming to this every day for a hundred days and inevitably there will be queueing because our research into Expos showed that there is queueing for all the good pavilions, there can be queueing three, four hours and so you then say there is 250 pavilions, I mean, any sort of vaguely sane human being is not going to go for three months and queue one-by-one for 250 pavilions, they are going to actually probably go to five and a 100 metre by 60 metre site can build a museum, it’s the scale of site that can build a museum, a major museum, so going to the Expos in the hot summer Shanghai temperatures is actually most people’s idea of hell, it’s like going to every single shop in Oxford Street, every single shop in Regent Street, going to every museum in London and every museum in New York, and every museum in Paris, you know it’s, imagine what condition you are in as you are trying to go around that in one day or two days so, we focussed on human experience first rather than actually the Government’s brief and we realised if you actually analyse that brief, which country wasn’t saying ‘Show that we are diverse’, which country wasn’t saying ‘Show that we’ve got interesting food’, every country was basically trying to say the same thing so, how do you stand out when everyone is showing off and when actually they are all saying too much and the fact that we had half the budget in a way forced us in how we approached the project to say ‘Right, let’s focus, instead of trying to do a thousand things a bit pathetically, why don’t we just do one thing and do it well’ and so we decided that when we read the British Government’s brief, you know and you think of the amazing civil servants and people who have put together a Government brief from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to show our country as a good place to go on holiday, show our da, da, da, d and at the end it said, ‘When there’s voting, make sure you are in the top five’ and so you suddenly go, ‘Actually, that’s not just sort of ego speaking, we’ll waste the British tax payers’ money, we’re not in the top five’ and so we decided to do one thing and the only way if we had half the budget was to not attempt to build this daft national museum but instead to work… and what if we made one of the smallest pavilions at the Expo because when we did our research and analysed, most of the other countries what they do is that there is an architectural competition, a designer wins that, and they design a building as big as their site so, a 100 metre by 60 metre site, and then surprise, surprise the budget goes too high and they’ve got no money for contents and then they have a film inside so, we realised we mustn’t follow that format, we must invent a new format so, we focussed on a sixth of the site and we found one thing to focus on which was… the whole Expo is about the future of cities and we focussed on nature, I mean British cities had this world leading history of integrating nature, thanks to the Georgians and Victorians, into the hearts of our cities in the belief that that made more healthy environments for us and the world’s first major botanical institute, Kew Gardens, was in London and so we spoke to Kew and they agreed to give us a quarter of a million seeds and we thought, what is the opposite of what anyone would expect and what is something that even British people haven’t seen because actually the Millennium Seed Bank at Kew has been running, isn’t at Kew, it’s actually held just near Gatwick Airport and we were aware that most British people didn’t know that and hadn’t seen that so, the outcome was trying to think about the human experience, what would be a refreshment to the exhausted minds and feet and eyes of a million people every day and that’s… that analysis and rewriting of our brief to ourselves then led to us developing this project which won the top prize at the Expo but it was just through analysis, it wasn’t, I think that when something is unusual looking in some way, people assume that for some reason Britain has got into a mindset that they think, ‘Oh, a crazy artist has done this thing’ but it’s coming from a precise analysis about human experience and I found that the building industry has got lazy in understanding the lived public experience and you know how disconnected so many people are, if you grab someone on the street and say to them, ‘Royal Institute of British Architects, do you know what it is?’, they will never know what it is, would they have ever been there?  Never.  You know, so there’s this, I think there’s a real disconnect and I think these are things that other people have put their fingers on and I think I am really interested in how you bring those worlds together, the incredibleness that there is in Britain of architectural thinking, of the ability to conceive, engineer and produce some of the most phenomenally performing in sustainability terms, in human experience terms but it communicates pretty terribly in a day to day sense with our amazing nation. 

Susan Freeman

And I think one of the things you’ve observed is that, and this isn’t just in this country it’s you know across the world that it’s actually been left to private developers and the city planners to create amazing places and these schemes aren’t being commissioned by, you know, Government or Local Authorities and how are the private sector doing in creating these places do you think?

Thomas Heatherwick

I think it it’s such a shame really that the Government have got, and I say the Government, the Governments over the last fifteen, twenty years, Governments around the world have lost confidence in making places, in leading, the leading of making places.  In the building industry we all know of the amazing County Councils around Britain who at various points have some of the best architects and building creators in the world were working within County Councils and Planning Authorities and with a real sense of public purpose and then there were real major things being created and you can argue with the quality of some of them but some of those things that were made were really exceptional and it’s not really happening, I mean, in Paris at the moment it’s a very different scene and there’s real synergy I think between the national leadership and the city-wide leadership and there is major leadership being shown with many projects and our friends who are architects and designers based in Paris at the moment, they are all busy on city commissions, city competitions for parts all across the city and there is a real sense of urban renewal and energy and leadership coming and we were involved in one of those competitions and it was inspiring and that really made us realise that how things are set up and, you know, the Mayor of London’s primary leadership here is with transport not actually with the land development and the sort of the rift between city leadership and national leadership, I think it’s a shame there isn’t more synergy in the cities in Britain a bit more, I think there probably is more actually outside of London than in London but, so the outcome has been that private developers have had to… have sort of taken over and been incentivised by Government but to lead things and then there is the concern when swathes of London and cities around the world, and we have experienced that in the US as well, where private developers have made those projects happen and then there’s questioning over the what’s that relationship to as public space that’s created and I suppose me and my team have been very committed to trying to make a difference in the public arena and we are in a time when it’s not Governments leading that, a lot of that is being led by private developers and rather than sort of retreat from that, we have engaged with that because we really believe in the public space and we believe that we do need to not just cynically caricature all property developers as not being well-intentioned and I think that there are a number of property developers who we’ve been having the chances to work with who are smart, smart, smart people and they are in things for the long-term and are cleverer enough to know that it’s only by making the public place that they will actually make something that will have value eventually in commercial terms as well so there’s sort of arrows flying and there’s a sort of, I think there’s a dangerous sort of elitism in a way that says that only real proper, proper proper architecture happens for art galleries somehow and I think that it’s a shame if the most talented people are scared of working on projects that actually are far more public but are in the privately commissioned sphere so that’s environments that involve shopping, food, drink, workspace and that, I think it’s important for design teams to be as ambitious with those projects as they would be with the, that sort of gold-plated cultural project thing because to me the public area is culture and the culture is everything that surrounds your life and so I quietly get riled when I hear people talk about ‘culture projects’ because I think well that’s sometimes they are less our culture of our time and our people and actually just we are a rather small slice of society.  Having said that, we have worked on a museum and that was in Africa and that was a thrilling project to work on in big part because there actually wasn’t already an infrastructure of hundreds of art institutions where an artist in Africa could show their work and so we were excited to be involved in the re-purposing of this gigantic grain silo in the very bottom tip of Africa, in Cape Town, and that was a long project, it took many years, rather it just stemmed from the very first visit into the place that it is now, but it also seemed to offer Africa a chance to tell its own story, it had been literally thousands of contemporary art institutions now in Asia, North America and Europe, every city falls over themselves to create these more cultural institutions because it’s sort of the gold standard of somehow development but the whole continent of Africa had no major institution for an artist to show their work so that was very motivating for us. 

Susan Freeman

It’s the most fantastic building, I have to say I was absolutely blown away by it and when I went round it, I actually didn’t unders… you know I didn’t even know what you’d had to do in terms of cutting, you know, cutting away the inside of the building and I think you described it as the world’s ‘tubiest building’ so presumably when you started with it, there wasn’t any space, it was all full of grain silos?  I honestly don’t know how you did it because actually it really does feel like a cathedral, you know, the actual space from the bottom to the top is and the sound resonation in the building is just amazing. 

Thomas Heatherwick

Well, I mean actually there are hundreds and hundreds of grain silo buildings around the world made from these tubular segmentation that sort of compartmentalises the structure but it was certainly the most tuby structure that we had ever worked with and the challenge seemed to be, I mean, particularly containerisation, the advent of containerisation that really was hitting in in the last decades has meant that, I mean that was one of the reasons that London stopped being a port in the centre as containerisation as this more efficient way to ship produce and substances and materials around the world meant that you needed these much larger spaces and you weren’t loading and offloading actual grain, you were loading containers and so this became unused just at the same time as Apartheid ended and so there seemed to be a powerful timing of its chance for re-birth and I think that we’ve been, in the Studio, I never thought when we set up that we would actually become experts at re-purposing and at Heritage architecture but most of our work on these projects is restoration work and we re-purpose the industrial facility that for two centuries was making the British Empire’s bank notes in Hampshire at Laverstoke Mill and turned it into a factory producing 7 million litres of gin a year and here we had this site where we could have knocked down the silo, it would be easy to knock down but I think we’ve been too polite, I’ve certainly experienced so many refurbishment projects where there is an existing Victorian or Georgian structure and we’ve already had Covent Garden where they cleaned the brick and it was a special place for London, and we’ve been blessed in the United Kingdom with thousands and thousands of these industrial buildings leftover from the heritage of the Empire mindset and the Industrial Revolution and it felt that we can often be surprisingly unimaginative in how we respond to them and it seems more relevant than ever to ‘How do you find soulfulness in the world around us?’, when so often new places feel really dead and lifeless and they are also often made from materials that we don’t have available, often the crafts and materials that existed in the past and so that patina that some of the older structures could build up, newer things probably will never be able to build up in the same way.  So, we’ve been very interested in how we can borrow the soulfulness and character and texture, things that if we were making a new building, we would reject instantly in the snagging process, you know, and say ‘what, that’s not perfect enough’, and actually we cherish imperfection but we don’t have the confidence now to be imperfect with new things and so I think older structures can give you permission and the impact of those materials on emotion is powerful so in a way radical re-purposing of historic structures, and not just Victorian but 1970s, 1960s and these grain silos were one century old so they were built in the 1920’s and were early examples of a slip-formed structure in South Africa and so we said let’s not knock this down and let’s do something that, there seemed to be also a power in that South African society had been split into silos and how could we break through those? And this idea of taking one of the grains of corn that had been stored, of one of the trillions that had gone through these structures in the eighty/ninety years they were working and then to use that as the cutting tool, super-scaled up to ten stories high to bring the unity and open up and create the larger space and then allow the gallery space, there’s a whole family of gallery spaces, to be very simple rectilinear spaces which could, would allow the museum to develop their own and curate their own exhibitions and the artists to lead that and be making shows that would then be able to travel and communicate to the world so just as this grain silo had grain going to the world for the African artists and curators to be working from a place that’s designed to take that work and spread it, it seemed an important thing for us to try to facilitate in our design work. 

Susan Freeman

And it’s absolutely, it’s fabulous and another one of your projects which involves re-purposing Heritage structures is Coal Drop Yards, King’s Cross and that is, for those of our listeners who haven’t been there, I mean you basically had Victorian structures but you have done something unusual, you have opened up the roofs, you’ve connected two structures were actually quite far apart and made something absolutely stunning and one of the things that I wondered about was obviously Argent were the developer, Camden are the Local Authority, how did Camden react to quite a sort of radical treatment of their heritage structures?

Thomas Heatherwick

Well, I think that there are some really smart people in the Planning Departments in Camden and there’s the Head of Urban Design, someone called Ed Jarvis, was fantastic and we actually originally presented a design approach and he responded and Historic England were very, very encouraging and just like ‘Yep, great, great, great’ and he made a critique that we went away and sort of just tried to think where that came from and what he really meant and it actually inspired us and the idea got stronger and because of that chemistry and I think that for me was one of the best examples we’ve had of how planning should be in, you know, a good, a collaborator who through your interaction makes a project better and stronger so it was for a logical reason that there was a place that was going to become somewhere which would have shops and restaurant space and the actual human rules that we conventionally work by in, about distances from each other, sight lines, distances you can recognise somebody which have driven the shopping places around the world, you know there’s reasons why shopping malls have a certain distance from one side to the other because that’s a distance where you can still see and recognise someone and in a way be I suppose a momentum or chemistry that holds it socially together but we had this dynamic of these two historic buildings that were warehouse structures that had these bits that the trains came to on them and they were twice the width that is a good practise for a place that you are hoping would be good for shopping at one end and three times the distance at the other end so they were double wrong and triple wrong and so we knew that we needed to create a heart there somehow, they are also two long sticks that has, there’s a reason why spaces, there tends to be a focal heart-like dimension and so our challenge was how we could respect their linearity and restore and bring the public through and in and make open up this site that Londoners had never been to and it was closed off rail land, never designed for people but to somehow make it people centric when it was never intended for that originally and it was exciting to work with that and find ways to this thing of using the original stone quarry that did the roofing for the buildings originally and getting hold of the original slate and let the roof laying, slate laying, art and craftsmanship drive something where actually these two roofs came together to give another 20,000 square foot of space that we weren’t asked for in the brief but that could then make a sort of anchor space that glued together and created a heart and many of our projects are very focussed on how you make a place and the projects in Africa you were just talking about, there was a big push to make a heart to a project that would pull South Africans all together and break through the normal resistance that there would be for people who have maybe never been to a museum in their life to go inside institutions so it felt welcoming and broke down the threshold that normally exists of institutions in unfamiliar worlds and specialisms so this was important in our values for us that we all still need to get food and drink and clothes and things in our lives and so to us that was a precious opportunity to also borrow the heritage atmosphere and the soulfulness that those existing buildings had and take them to the next level.  So, I mean, that’s been exciting, I mean, things like the Bombay Sapphire Distillery project that we worked on, it was exciting for that because that was the first ever refurbishment project to be awarded at BREEAM Outstanding and that was, we made a botanical distillery and we worked backwards from how can we create the botanical distillery and use all the waste heat that gin stills that normally are throwing away this heat, could actually be used for growing plants on site and we found that there are great opportunities in working with buildings for, to kind of bust you out of yourself, I am sort of not very interested in people’s style of what they do, the nice thing with a historic building is you’ve got something immediate to respond to and work with and provoke something that hopefully will be more particular to that place and even the Victorians, you know, they were bashing out, I mean, these coal drop viaduct structures were the equivalent of Ikea sheds for the Victorians, I mean, we cherish them now and they are so gorgeous but they were being bashed out across the country and across the world so how do you work with those but allow them to become more specific to their place?

Susan Freeman

I wonder if we are going to cherish our Ikea sheds in quite the same way?  I think probably not.  So, Thomas, I have kept you long enough in your bedroom so, just one final question, I mean, your Studio has been working on some amazing projects across the world.  Is there anything in particular that you haven’t done that you would really still you’d like to do?

Thomas Heatherwick

Oh, I mean I feel we are just getting going, I mean, the world of building design take so long with any project you work on takes three, four, five or more years and so it’s only in the last few years that we have started to really finish major buildings and all the lessons you learn from that and so I am very impassionate about housing and how we can work on housing at a larger scale, how we can make health buildings, we’re just finishing our Maggie’s Centre in Leeds which will be one of the largest Maggie’s facilities in the country so I just feel there is so much space all around us and when you just stop and think of the parts of the world around us that aren’t impressive, whether that’s care homes, housing is our major challenge of time and I think that there’s a mindset that the only way to make affordable housing is to make sort of impoverished feeling and I believe that it’s passable that the only way to really make the sustainable housing is to make places that people can really love and places that people can love are going to be for many, many reasons but we are human, we are all idiosyncratic, we’ve all got personality and character and individuality that when we panic and build mass housing in history, we tend to build mass monotony and mass boredom and we get disenchantment and lack of inspiration to maintain and run and feel that, everybody feels they are special, every one of us thinks we are special and I love that, everybody feels that and I think it’s sort of, our challenge is to do that, find ways and languages to do justice to that at scale and I think there’s that opportunity and I’d love to work more and more and my team are really passionate about trying to make a difference and we’ve been working on housing projects in more high end things and we’d love to now transfer a lot of the lessons we’ve been learning from New York and Singapore with the housing projects we are finishing there now to now to that scale and find languages that kind of give more dignity and respect to all of us. 

Susan Freeman

Well, that’s really encouraging and you’ve got an awful lot of work to do so, thank you so much for your time today.  Thank you. 

Thomas Heatherwick

Thank you so much. 

Susan Freeman

Well, huge thanks to Thomas Heatherwick for taking the time to share some amazing insights into his design philosophy and his Studio’s collaborative approach to some credible projects.  So, that’s it for now.  I really hope you enjoyed today’s digital conversation.  Please all stay safe and join us for the next PropertyShe podcast interview coming very shortly. 

The Propertyshe podcast is brought to you by Mishcon de Reya in association with the London Real Estate Forum and can be found at Mishcon.com/PropertyShe along with all our interviews and programme notes.  The podcasts are also available to subscribe to on your Apple podcast app, the purple button on your iPhone, and on Spotify and whatever podcast app you use.  Do continue to let us have your feedback and comments and most importantly suggestions for future guests and of course you can continue to follow me on Twitter @Propertyshe for a regular commentary on all things real estate, Prop Tech and the built environment.

Thomas Heatherwick is a British designer whose prolific and varied work over two decades is characterised by its ingenuity, inventiveness and originality.

Defying the conventional classification of design disciplines, Thomas founded Heatherwick Studio in 1994 to bring the practices of design, architecture and urban planning together in a single workspace.

Thomas leads the design of all Heatherwick Studio projects, working in collaboration with a team of highly-skilled architects, designers, and makers. Thomas’ unusual approach applies artistic thinking to the needs of each project, resulting in some of the most acclaimed designs of our time.

Based in London, Heatherwick Studio is currently working on approximately 30 projects in ten countries. Following the Gold Award success of the UK Pavilion for the Shanghai World Expo in 2010, Heatherwick Studio has gone on to win exciting design briefs including new headquarters for Google campus in Silicon Valley and London (in collaboration with BIG, currently under construction), as well as a new terminal at Singapore’s Changi Airport (in collaboration with KPF).

The studio has recently completed a new public centrepiece for Hudson Yards in New York; the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, the first museum of its kind on the continent; and Coal Drops Yard, a major new retail district in King’s Cross, London.

Thomas has been appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, a Royal Academician and in 2004 became the youngest Royal Designer for Industry. Thomas was also awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 2007, and an Honorary Diploma from the Architectural Association (AA) in 2019 in recognition of his contribution to the industry.

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