Thomas Heatherwick, will you marry me?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

That might seem a rash question, but honestly, the man is so comprehensively, startlingly brilliant that I bet he gets these kind of proposals all the time. Thomas Heatherwick is, of course, perhaps Britain's greatest living designer.  He first swam into my consciousness as the originator of the London 2012 Olympic Cauldron, which was, of course, the most perfect cauldron ever designed. (And has fittingly been nominated for a "Design of the Year" award.)

The cauldron was codenamed "Betty" by Ceremonies to maintain utmost secrecy, in honour of the executive producer's dog, a friendly black cocker spaniel looking thing.

I think we can all agree that Betty was surpassingly fantastic in every way, except possibly one. You probably all know the concept for the cauldron by now: the 204 copper petals, one for every country competing, arriving with each team during the athlete's parade before being affixed to the stems of the cauldron under the stage.  Lovely.  Poetic even, in theory. But being of a cursed with an overly practical nature, what I heard in my head was this:
"Guys, I've got this great idea for the cauldron. You know - the single most important bit of kit in the ceremony? How about we partially dismantle the thing and then hand bits of it - the important bits that we can't fire the thing without - to children. And then we'll get the kids to do a lap of the stadium carrying these really important bits that they've never seen before, and then hand them off to technicians who'll reassemble the cauldron, during the ceremony that a billion people will be watching, in time that it's all put together and functions without a hitch even though there'll be no chance to test it once it's been reassembled. Great idea huh?"
It sounded frankly like the biggest gamble in the history of ceremonies. Luckily, Betty was in the hands of a brilliant team of people who worked like Trojans to make it all happen (mostly between one and five o'clock in the morning to stymie nosey journalists).  Mercifully for all involved, I had nothing to do with it beyond helping to supply 204 plastic orange buckets to act as rehearsal petals for the kids.  And of course it all worked out in the end, so I'm sorry I ever doubted you Thomas. Please forgive me.

Thomas Heatherwick was also behind the design of something I've already blogged about: the new Routemaster bus. I still haven't managed to ride on one of the new Routemasters, but now that I know Thomas is behind it I see it in a different light and I will redoubled my efforts and report back.

New Routemaster
The new Routemaster, with its two interior stairs and sweeping, winding windows. Lovely.

Routemaster stairs
The back stairs of the new Routemaster, which have a lovely vintage feel that makes it look like they belong in a nightclub in the 1920s.

But this blog isn't really about Betty or buses. It's about a fantastic little bridge also designed by Thomas Heatherwick, that I went to see on Friday afternoon when the weather was warm and the sky was clear and blue. Some of you may know that I've got a surpassing fondness for bridges in particular and for clever engineering in general, and this outwardly unassuming footbridge is a perfect synthesis of those two loves, which is how I know that Thomas Heatherwick and I are meant to be together forever.  I went to see it on Friday, arriving just before noon.

A nice but apparently unremarkable bridge.

At just after noon, and in front of a scattered crowd of twenty or so people, a pair of yellow-jacketed technicians emerged and plugged a hydraulic controller into a locked pedestal near the east end of the bridge and then stopped the casual pedestrian traffic from crossing.

Hmmm... interesting. What can be about to happen?

What happened was this:


And this:


And this:


And finally, this:


I'll let Thomas explain:
"The aim was to make the movement the extraordinary aspect of the bridge. A common approach to designing opening bridges is to have a single rigid element that fractures and lifts out of the way. Rolling Bridge opens by slowly and smoothly curling until it transforms from a conventional, straight bridge, into a circular sculpture which sits on the bank of the canal."  From the Heatherwick studios page on the bridge.
Thomas Heatherwick I LOVE YOU. Next you'll tell me that you've recently developed a recipe for quintuple chocolate and caramel cupcakes that are only 15 calorie each and that as your wedding gift to me you will be designing a secure, weatherproof and low profile bicycle storage system made from post-consumer recycled materials that will sit in an unused corner of our back garden and double as a chicken coop for heritage breed hens thus simultaneously providing a ready supply of organic free-range eggs and keeping my fussy derailleurs out of the weather.

Here's Thomas himself speaking about the bridge in his TED talk, and a nice little video of the bridge in action.  (Note the endearingly dishevelled hair and charming accent):

The ends of the bridge kiss each other!  And it all happens perfectly silently and smoothly.

Amusingly, as the bridge was almost finished performing its trick on Friday, a breathless guy with an American accent and a large DSLR camera jogged up and jokingly asked one of the Yellow Jacket Men, "Can you start again?" He was astonished when the guy said, "Yeah, we can do it again" and then proceeded to do just that.

I stayed for the second showing and watched again with a big stupid grin on my face because this bridge is both beautiful and clever at the same time and I because I love that it exists in the first place and that the people who look after it recognise that it's a beautiful and clever thing and let people come an enjoy its beauty and cleverness every week and will even run it on a whim for latecomers.

Me at the curly bridge, in deference to continuing requests from RobH for more pictures of me in blog posts.

And then wandered off in the warm afternoon sunshine feeling sublimely happy with London and trying to decide whether Thomas and I will have a big wedding, or just sneak off to the upper walkway of Tower Bridge with a Justice of the Peace and a few close friends, and then go for chocolate cupcakes.

P.S.  February 17 (the day this blog is posted) is also, in a coincidence so startling that I have to regard it as fate sealing us together forever, Thomas Heatherwick's 43rd birthday.  Happy Birthday Thomas!

P.P.S.  What?  Thomas Heatherwick is ALREADY MARRIED?

P.P.P.S.  I need some chocolate.

1 Comment:

Unknown said...

I am not the only one who likes to see a good Pam photo in every blog entry.

Nice bridge. Nice new busses too. I will have to check all this out on my next visit.


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