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An Extraordinary Designer of Extraordinary Things

26 August 2014

By Francesca Fenn


A  couple of years ago Malcolm and I were enjoying a day's wandering around London in general, and Kensington in particular. As we went in to the V&A for tea and cake in their wonderful tearooms, we noticed the back of a new Routemaster bus in a room to the left of the entrance, along with some other stuff. It was a one room exhibition called 'Designing the Extraordinary', and was about Heatherwick Studios and their boss man Thomas Heatherwick.


Intrigued, we coughed up and went in, and were immediately captivated by the beautiful, unique and organic designs which pour out from this studio, from tiny, ingenious gadgets to enormous buildings. Not least, Christmas cards fromMr Heatherwick were hand made, witty little 3D cards and objects.


And yes, our new London Routemaster buses were designed by the Heatherwick Studio too. I love them - they seem to me to capture the spirit of the lovely old 'Masters, and the interior is just gorgeous. They have become an instant icon across the City, though rather a lot of them seem to be losing their redness to advertising. Gradually the buses we pop on and off in our Guides are being run with these lovely monsters.


The dramatic Paternoster air vents at the Western edge of Paternoster Square, near St Paul's Cathedral, all zig- zaggy and spiralling as they are, are another London special from Heatherwick. I had seen them, photographed them, wondered about them, but it was only at the exhibition that I found out about their origin.


Most iconic of all the Heatherwick London projects was one which had no mention at all in the exhibition. Why this strange omission? Well, it was a top, top secret affair, under very tight wraps, which was revealed later that summer at the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympic Games. The awe-inspiring, unforgettable Olympic Cauldron with its 204 'petals' representing the participating nations was ignited, declaring the games open. And Heatherwick Studios must have breathed an immense sigh of reief that everything went to plan.


And now, dear reader, you have the opportunity to see close up what the Olympic cauldron looks like, how that beautiful coming together of the flames was achieved, and what happened to it after the Olympics and Paralympics. The Museum of London is hosting a new and permanent exhibition at its home in the Barbican, showing the construction and development of the cauldron. The hugely impressive techniques and collaboration that were employed are demonstrated and explained, and there is a large screen on one wall showing the ceromonies, (which some of us found quite emotional!) and interviews with Thomas Heatherwick and others. The exhibition isn't large, but I found it delightful!


So, what is next for London from Thomas Heatherwick and his colleagues? Well, there is a certain garden bridge across the Thames being planned at the moment , to run between Temple Station and the South Bank. Watch this space.....