British designer Heatherwick seeks cities with 'human scale'

British designer Heatherwick seeks cities with 'human scale'
British Designer Thomas Heatherwick.

HONG KONG - Counting among his creations an Olympic cauldron, a sunken desert oasis and a London double-decker bus, British designer Thomas Heatherwick can at the very least be described as unpredictable.

His studio's spectacular, transforming cauldron for the 2012 Olympics was arguably the first to be remembered beyond the lighting ceremony while his award-winning design for Britain's "Seed Cathedral" pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo housed a quarter of a million seeds cast in the tips of 60,000 acrylic rods, giving it a hairy yet translucent appearance.

"I'm a three-dimensional designer," he told AFP in an interview in Hong Kong, a city where he has also left his imprint in the 166 million pound (S$351 million) redesign of high end shopping mall Pacific Place.

"I don't see things as different disciplines. It's the healthiest thing for your response to a project if you can be as free from pre-set assumptions as possible when you're beginning," he said.

"We've tried to be experts at not being experts, which means working with really good experts on every project." His London-based Studio Heatherwick - which after the 2012 Olympics denied a New York firm's claim that it designed something that bore similarities to the cauldron earlier - defines its projects only in terms of whether they are "small", "medium" or "large".

Its latest is a garden - albeit one that requires its own custom-built bridge spanning the River Thames.

Widening and narrowing across its span, the Garden Bridge has been envisioned as a pedestrian route linking North and South London and joins a list of Heatherwick projects - from spinning chairs to the new double-decker bus for London and buildings designed to help people more easily meet each other - that make the 44-year-old designer one of the world's most ambitious.

While Heatherwick is reluctant to categorise himself, the one constant in his work is its combination of practicality with a frequently stunning sense of poetry, putting humanity at the forefront of projects that are growing in scale along with the cities they appear in.

"Cities are bigger than ever, roads are bigger than ever, property developers are not even bothering with smaller land in places such as China and Hong Kong," said Heatherwick, who was in Hong Kong to give a lecture.

"But humans are still roughly the same size they were a few centuries ago, give or take a few centimetres.

"So how do you make big projects still relate to the human scale?"

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