Sunday, 23 September 2012

Heatherwick Studios at the V&A - OCA Study Visit

Ambience - The V&A is an impressive place with its large scale classical architecture and massive reputation for design and visual arts. The traffic cones over the entrance, the Chihuly ringlets over the reception desk, and the smiling tourists laughing out loud as they swing almost upside down in the Heatherwick metal chairs in the lobby all showed that its attitude to design is lively and up to date.  

A (blurred) page from my notebook on the day.
The clay study interested me because it was obviously the result of
Heatherwick playing with is thumbs in the clay.
The physical process of making quote is from the professed ethos
of the Heatherwick Studios.
The bottom wavy lines are to remind me of what I liked about the
woven metal screens at the bottom of Guy's Hospital Tower. 

The room that houses the exhibition is not particularly small but it felt cramped with so much, and so many people, stuffed into it. However, I found that I didn't mind this as much as I expected because what there was to see held my attention. 

Theme - The creative process of the Heatherwick Studio since its opening 14 years ago.
How it uses experimentation with materials and the making of models and prototypes to develop designs. And the amazing innovation this has produced.

Display - The items were approximately in groups according to how the creative problem had been solved, with a section in the middle relating to Heatherwick's personal collection of found objects and childhood cards. Because they were grouped in clumps, it was not immediately obvious that the groups were together for a reason, and walking round the exhibition was a voyage of discovery in this sense (as well as many others).

Lighting - The lighting appeared to be dim when I first entered the room, but I quickly forgot about this, and had no problem seeing the objects or signs. 

Explanation - The signs were clear, with a central discussion of the group overall and what it showed about the process of design in the studios. The same information was on the programme obtained by turning the handle of a machine in the entrance. There was sometimes too little information about the individual items for my taste. For example the first object - an iron chair with curves on either side like sheeps' horns was referred to only briefly as a student object. I would have liked to have known the brief and something about the thoughts that went into designing it.  

Visual - There was a lot to catch the eye, with large items on the wall, and strange and intriguing shapes everywhere. There was strikingly little colour.

I have picked out a few of the items that interested me most in this exhibition.

Cloud Bridge
I haven't been able to find a picture of this on the internet. The bridge is supported by flat circles. In the model these were made of card. A model beside it showed how it was carefully constructed so that the diameters of the circles were in the right places to support the weight of the bridge, but their unusual shape and size gave an illusion of lightness.

This bridge is decorative and functional. I thought it looked more like confetti than cloud, and wondered if there may have been a wedding (in which case it would have been symbolic as well).

I loved the way it looked casual, almost accidental, with lots of spaces visible between the circles. There was something very clever about it being strong and this strength being hidden at the same time.

Temple Design
The form of the temple was determined by folding over a piece of rubberised foam. This was then translated into the model using wooden sticks. At first I thought they were lollipop sticks, as is traditional when making models! The combination of the soft curved shapes given by the foam and the precision-cut wood was delightful.

For a model for Kyoto temple design - click here

Because of the design being determined by fabric, it refers to natural curved folded shapes like clouds, hills etc.

Is it decorative, expressive, functional or symbolic? Hm. All of them I think. But mostly functional (I believe thought will have been put into the functioning of the building as a temple, but there was nothing to indicate this that I saw) and symbolic. A place where the usual rules of the street do not apply is amply demonstrated by the shape of it. There is something comforting and transcendent about the roundness and the organic shape.

I liked the way this shape made me feel. I'm not sure how it would be to have it by the side of a road. I'm not sure what it would be like to be inside trying to pray. During the discussion one of the other textiles students expressed my opinion that this was interesting but the community centre built in the shapes of stones next to it in the exhibition was not. I think this is because the stones one did not give me the joy of the new. It may be that it would be new and exciting to be in the building, but the way it was displayed did not indicate this to me.

Seed Cathedral
This 'building' was to display a collection of 250,000 seeds for an expo in Shanghai, to demonstrate to the Chinese that Britain isn't stuck in the Victorian past.

The marvel of this is that it is so very different from any conventional idea of how to display a collection of things. And so light and appropriate for seeds, being in the shape of a seed pod itself. And so very different from any building you've ever seen!

It is decorative, expressive and of course symbolises an optimism for the future. Since the aim was to change the view of the Chinese, I am sure that it was extremely functional too.

Link to Guardian picture of seeds in acrylic rods

Link to a picture of Seed Cathedral

I like the way the shape of the building developed from the shape of the display inside. And the seeds look great in their rods. The 'superfluity of repetitive attention' reminds me of the excess and built-in redundancy of most seeds.

I am rather in awe of the amount of work that must have gone into designing and building this building.

What I have learned from this study visit:

This was my first study visit with the OCA. It was a chance to meet Jane and James, and of course some of my co-course members.

Things I have learned from this visit:

1. It has made me aware of how much I have limited my own imagination by thinking about the practicalities of time and manpower. That there's no harm in dreaming!
2. I delight in the playfulness of these innovations, and see that other people do too (and laugh as they play on them). I should definitely play more with any materials I can find.
3. I have always made things from what I have around, rather than going out to get the proper materials, and this has resulted in some unusual ways of doing things. I have been thinking that I should curb this, and concentrate on using the proper materials, but this exhibition has made me value making up new ways of making things a bit more too.
4. That a notebook can be just as evocative as photos. If not more so.
5. That good design is good design and that a boundary between designs using different materials may be entirely artificial and counterproductive.

Inspired by this exhibition to use the qualities of materials,
I folded the information sheet into spirals so that I could
stick it into my sketchbook without losing the information on the back.

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