VISIONARY THOMAS HEATHERWICK
Move over Zaha Hadid and Ron Arad -- London architect/designer Thomas Heatherwick, a new Brit import, is about to cement his position in the pantheon of design on these shores. His work has been relatively unknown in the U.S. up until now, but this week the Chelsea branch of Haunch of Venison unveils his latest output in its exhibition, “Extruding and Spinning,” on view through March 3, 2012.
Heatherwick’s CV is impressive, with his oeuvre crossing architecture, sculpture, design, engineering and even public art. He snared the top prize for the British Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo in 2010, as well as a slew of other awards, and he is now set to design the 2012 Olympic cauldron for London’s Olympic games. On view at Haunch are four of his mirror-polished, nickel-plated benches, titled Extrusions. They are the world’s first single component of metal furniture extruded by machine and made without fixtures or fittings, as if squeezed out in a single stroke. Each bench undergoes 300 hours of polishing.
“With Extrusions, each piece is entirely unique, and these are the largest aluminum extrusions ever made,” Heatherwick offered. “The studio's role was to design a simple seat profile, find the appropriate technology and leave the 10,000 tons of pressure to do the rest of the work,” he said.
Also on offer at the gallery is his “Spun Coriolis” series of spinning metal chairs. These limited edition chairs literally spin 360 degrees, and they scored the Design Medal during London’s Design Festival in 2010; even the Museum of Modern Art has taken one on. “‘Spun Coriolis’ came about after I met a craftsman who made timpani drums, those large percussion instruments that sit at the back of a concert orchestra,” Heatherwick explained, and indeed, it is easy to see the drums’ influence in their shape. Prices in the show run from $18,000-$60,000.
What’s most surprising, since we have heard so little from Heatherwick until recently, is that he opened his interdisciplinary studio as far back as 1994. There, his team of 80, which includes architects, theater designers, photographers and landscape designers, continues to turn out all manner of projects. They’re currently working on a biomass power station for Stockton-on-Tees in England, whose price tag approaches $250,000 million, and they’ve just completed designs for a stream-lined, double-decker bus in London.
Meanwhile, London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is slated to host an exhibition of Heatherwick’s architecture and design in 2012, and a major survey of his work opens at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas in 2014 before touring to other prominent U.S. museums and institutions.
Also not to miss: New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger will lead a conversation with Heatherwick on January 24 at the gallery -- but it’s by invitation only.
“Thomas Heatherwick: Extruding and Spinning,” Jan. 12-Mar. 3, 2012, Haunch of Venison New York, 550 W 21st Street, New York, 10011.
BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.