On September 13, the Nasher Sculpture Center opens its third exhibition dedicated to architecture. “Provocations: The Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio” details the iterative process of the wildly creative London-based firm of Thomas Heatherwick. Texas Architect Editor Catherine Gavin interviewed guest curator Brooke Hodge about the exhibition.
Because Heatherwick Studio is not as well known in the U.S. as they are in the U.K., I wanted to show visitors the full range of the practice, from small objects to very large buildings and developments. Each project is represented by materials that architects and designers use in the design process — models, prototypes, inspiration, or research objects — to test their ideas. The film and video footage shows how the actual object or structure (i.e. the Plank furniture, the Olympic Cauldron, or the Rolling Bridge) works. In architecture exhibitions, the real thing (the building) can never be shown, since there is only one of it and it’s too big to fit into a gallery space. Because of this, a number of different types of materials need to work together to explain the project and the design process. Also, visitors can’t touch things in museums, so the simple film demonstrations of how someone works are really important. Films are also an important part of Heatherwick’s design process, which really focuses on problem solving and making sure things work properly. The photographs show the finished buildings or structures. If a project is still in process, then we have included the studio’s rendering (or visualization) of what it will look like.
The creative process of designers and architects is something that I don’t think most museum visitors understand, so I wanted to open a window onto how Heatherwick and his team think about their projects. The studio is really like a laboratory for problem solving, and they start each project with a question, or provocation (hence the title of the show), and then work through many iterations to come up with the best way to answer that question.
I think the work of Heatherwick Studio shows that it’s possible for a studio to be working on many scales at once and without a particular signature style (i.e., not all of their buildings look the same). The studio’s signature is ingenuity. The number of projects the studio has in Asia shows how much building is going on there and also that clients there may be more willing to take a risk with a studio that doesn’t have the worldwide recognition of a Norman Foster or a Frank Gehry, because they are interested in the ingenuity of Heatherwick’s approach to each individual project.
I think the Nasher is appropriate because it has shown several other architecture exhibitions in the past. Many of the Heatherwick models and prototypes are very sculptural, and we thought they would be amazing in the Nasher’s galleries, which are especially well suited to three-dimensional objects.
This article is online content for the September/October 2014 issue of Texas Architect.