~ Heatherwick Designing the Extraordinary// Talk by Abraham Thomas, Exhibiton Curator V&A

I really enjoyed the talk given last night at the The Hospital Club, by Heatherwick exhibition curator Abraham Thomas from the Victoria & Albert Museum. Abraham spent over a year with the Heatherwick Studio in the lead up to the exhibition (which they helped design), gaining valuable insight into their design process.
It is the first ever major retrospective of the work of Heatherwick Studio & a big year for the studio, designing the new London bus and as I learned last night, also the cauldron for the olympics (top-secret). An exhibit on the Olympic cauldron will be added to the V&A  after the opening ceremony on 27 July 2012.
It's a very interesting design process and one unlike other design offices, it tends to be an exploration of 3D materiality and letting a material be the first guide to a design solution, rather than first sketching an idea & making a fit. A ten second exploration into how a material folds, scrunches, extrudes, more like a sculptor would explore a material. The office contains numerous maquette's and 3D form explorations in are cabinet of curiosity style, some of which may be realised and others come in handy as a new project arises that fits the form as in the case of the Paternoster Sq vents. Take a look at the video of Thomas folding paper here.

The inspiration for some of the projects is very interesting & varied (and also the main subject of the blog). In January 2008 a wrecked ship, the Ice Prince, lost her cargo of sawn timber to the sea, off the coast of Devon. The resultant “wood slick” washed ashore in Worthing. A black & white photograph of the timber washed onto shore was project inspiration for Worthing Swimming Pool entry, you can see more about the project entry that was shortlisted here.
A playdoh toy called 'fuzzy pumper' that extrudeds hair inspired the UK pavilion (seed cathedral) China 2010.
Thomas' mother once owned a bead shop on Portobello Rd inspiring the work 'Bleigiessen' for the Wellcome trust.
The glass beads being laid out and strung on stainless steel wire on long boards
Bleigiessen, Wellcome Trust
The exhibition itself is based on a plinth /graphic equaliser, each exhibit having it's own height and size different from the other with nothing touching the walls. Designed to give a sense of the studio itself, with models, casts, with quite a varied amount of work. The exhibition is not chronologically arranged, but more groupings of the same idea or theme, materiality, technology etc. There is also word that every Friday at 2pm, someone from the studio will be on hand to demonstrate the working models, including the 7 metre retractable bridge.
Image via It's Nice That

Image via It's Nice That
Image via It's Nice That
Image via It's Nice That
Inspiration comes from many sources, from memories, experiences, training informing us as designers and the design process.
The 80 strong staff (I didn't know it was so big)of the Heatherwick Studio are all given a voice, both within the work and within the exhibition, but Thomas is very much the filter through which the ideas a run.
A fascinating look at an extraordinary design office. Inspired by the ordinary and making it extraordinary, inspiring.