Thomas Heatherwick was born in 1970 in London. Born into an artistic, design-oriented family, he completed his schooling and studied three-dimensional design under Manchester Poly-technic. Later he got into the Royal College of Art for a Master’s degree, graduating in 1994 founded his practice, Heatherwick Studio, in the same year. And for more than two decades, his studio has been doing some prolific work with revolutionary designs, among which the rolling bridge, UK pavilion, B for bang, East beach café, Worth Abbey are some noteworthy projects. His highly controversial works include the New Routemaster bus, Vessel, Little Island (pier55). His studio has a multi-disciplinary goal of covering a wide range such as Architecture, furniture, infrastructure, fashion, product design, engineering, 3D design, sculpture in a variety of scales, and volumes. Thomas Heatherwick’s projects have an inclusive and collaborative approach that primarily focuses on human engagement and building around it. Below is the list of 15 things you probably didn’t know about him before:

1. Sir Terence Conran was his Mentor

Sir Terence Conran, who recently passed away at the age of 88 after an exemplary career in the field of design, was a mentor for Thomas Heatherwick. Their friendship and mentorship trace back to Heatherwick’s college days at the Royal College of Art, where and when they first met. Being a fan of Conran’s work, Thomas Heatherwick has followed him to the fire stairs to show his design and have a conversation about his thoughts and views. Impressed with his design, he took it up to him to mentor the young Thomas Heatherwick and even funded it to execute his pavilion design idea. Sir Conran has even praised him as the “Leonardo Da Vinci of our times”.

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Image 1 – Thomas Heatherwick and Terence Conran during 1994 ©Dezeen

2. His family was his first inspiration

Being born into a family full of designers and artists, it was no mystery that Thomas Heatherwick ended up where he is now. His great grandfather was the owner of Jaeger, a London-based fashion firm, while his grandmother was a textile designer. His Mother was into crafts who collected beads, whereas his father was into construction and engineering. Ever since childhood, he has had a strong connection with design and art. Surrounded by a room full of artists and creators, his understanding of design and art was more holistic and not segregated.  

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Stefany Tomalin – Mother of Thomas Heatherwick ©Ted

3. He is a Complete Londoner

Thomas Heatherwick is a complete Londoner in every sense. He was born in London, did his schooling and college in London before starting his practice in the same city. Although his studio has expanded to multiple cities now, London was its origin. He has also mentioned how the city has influenced him, his interests, and his approach towards architecture and infrastructure in building places that connect people.

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New Routemaster bus ©Iwan Baan

4. His crime-solving approach to design

Thomas Heatherwick believes design in a single discipline; three dimensional as opposed to the multiple categories it has been stranded into. Explaining this, he says, “You don’t architect a building You design it”. His studio focuses on problem-solving and invention. Hence, his way of analyzing a brief is like solving a crime. He is not a firm believer in having a style but rather focuses on a problem and builds around solving it. Thereby every building has a distinctive style. He feels inventions are underrated in the field of design that should be given the necessary credit to develop and evolve as an ecology.

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Spun chair ©Peter Mallet

5. Inspiration For The Seed Cathedral

Credited as one of their exquisite designs, the UK pavilion in Shanghai derives its inspiration from the play-doh mop. The 66,000 seed optic fibers diverging from the center owe its structure to the famous play-doh mop. This design is a result of his ideology that everything around us is a form of design and hence an idea or inspiration.

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UK Pavilion ©Iwan Baan

6. His Dream Project

Thomas Heatherwick’s goal is to make spaces that bring out the best human connections between people. Hence his interest lies in designing public spaces, especially in the health sector arena. When boiled down to a single project, he is interested in designing a prison with an alternate perspective as to seeing it as a place of learning. He is also interested in designing a car park. His love for designing public spaces rises from the fact that the public’s expectation in terms of design is relatively low for these spaces yet, these are the ones that can impact an environment at a higher level and bring in a difference.

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Guy’s Hospital, London ©Edmund Sumner

7. He Likes Working In Groups

His studio boasts almost 200 employees from various disciplines of design comprising architecture, infrastructure, urban planning, sculpture but works under a single goal and focus. It arises from the fact that Thomas Heatherwick believes that some of his best ideas don’t originate from a single person but is a result of a group approach. He also shares a story about his college days where he used to have a session with an engineer, and they used to discuss and come up with things that were the integration of both their thoughts and conceptions. He believes as a group, it is easier to create and ideate, yielding the best results.

Vessel by Heatherwick studio ©Wikimedia Commons

8. He Is Not A Coffee Lover

Contradictory to most of the artists’ preferences, this London-born designer is not a fan of the beverage and rather prefers tea.

Thomas Heatherwick ©Dezeen

9. His Studio Is A Nine-year Old’s Bedroom

When describing his studio based on Kings Cross London, he says it is a “Gigantic mutated version of his bedroom from when I was nine-years-old”.

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Inside Heatherwick Studio ©Heatherwick studio

10. Did Their Own Contracting For The First 10 Years

For the first 10 years of Thomas Heatherwick’s practice, they were the makers and contractors as well. Given the financial limitations, they were their contractors for initial projects. The Zeitz Museum of Cape Town was built during their initial period and since they were the makers, they decided to use 42 vertical concrete tubes and transform it into a contemporary space.

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Zeitz museum of cape town ©Dezeen

Kamalavinayagam is a passionate designer and a self-taught writer whose interests also include films, food and music. She is an avid learner who is here to research, analyze and understand different fields of design and provide her take on how they influence the world.