The Provocative Architecture Of Thomas Heatherwick

From his grain silo art museum to a park floating on a pier, Thomas Heatherwick’s designs are endlessly inventive and radically playful.

The mad scientist of architecture, who was just tapped to help design Google’s headquarters, is the subject of a new exhibition on display at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Provocations: The Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio shows Heatherwick at his most imaginative, through photographs, prototypes, furniture designs, and models of his architecture.

Learning Hub, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Heatherwick Studio

“He’s just ingenious. He comes up with solutions that nobody else could have thought of,” curator Brooke Hodge, who has since left the Hammer Museum for the Cooper Hewitt, said in a phone interview last summer. “They’re always questioning,” she says of his studio, named one of Fast Company’s most innovative companies in architecture this year. For instance, when faced with the task of designing a pedestrian draw bridge, they asked, “How do you make a bridge attractive but still allow boats to get through?” His studio came up with the Rolling Bridge, which rolls up on hydraulic pistons to let boats pass without sacrificing its beauty. In fact, it looks cooler when it’s raised than when it spans the channel.

Some of the projects featured in the exhibition include his shaded park design for Abu Dhabi, his controversial garden bridge proposal for London, and his famous pinhead-shaped U.K. Pavillion for the Shanghai World Expo 2010. Throughout his work, Heatherwick repurposes unusual materials–a large but awkwardly partitioned series of grain silos, light-sensitive filaments that move gently in the wind, or decrepit river piers. He manages to turn everyday sights like a park or a bus or a bridge into fantastical experiences.

Provacations runs at L.A.’s Hammer Museum until May 24.