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If you think you have a pretty good idea of all that an architect can do, take a look at the work of British designer Thomas Heatherwick. Consider the project that put him on the map in 2002: a pedestrian bridge in London that curls up like a millipede.
His inexpensive artists’ studios in Wales are made from crinkled stainless-steel sheets and recall inflated Jiffy Pop containers; a roto-molded chair spools like a giant top. The U.K. pavilion for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai is only one of multiple so-called hairy structures that Heatherwick has designed. A six-story cube, the pavilion bristles with 60,000 acrylic prongs—each tip embedded with seeds from Kew Gardens’ Millennium Seed Bank. It was the undisputed sensation of the Expo.
Such projects may suggest an overly whimsical approach, but it would be a mistake to dismiss Mr. Heatherwick as an architect of follies. He has also designed the first new double-decker red Routemaster bus in 50 years for the streets of London and received awards for an 8-story learning hub used by 32,000 students that opened earlier this year at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
Mr. Heatherwick, who became an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects before turning 45, is a design talent of startling originality. Over 40 of his projects—from as small as a Christmas card to as large as a 15-acre mixed-use urban hub in Shanghai—are part of “Provocations: The Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio,” a traveling exhibition organized by the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas that stopped at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and is now at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York through Jan. 3, 2016. […]