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Designer seeks cities with ‘human scale’

File - visitors are seen outside the UK pavilion, by British designer Thomas Heatherwick, at the site of the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, October 29, 2010. (AFP PHOTO/Philippe Lopez)

HONG KONG: Counting among his creations an Olympic cauldron, a sunken desert oasis and a London double-decker bus, British designer Thomas Heatherwick can at the very least be described as unpredictable.

His studio’s spectacular cauldron for the 2012 Olympics was arguably the first to be remembered beyond the lighting ceremony.

“I’m a 3-D designer,” he told AFP in an interview in Hong Kong, a city where he has also left his imprint in the 166 million pound ($280 million) redesign of high-end shopping mall Pacific Place.

“I don’t see things as different disciplines. It’s the healthiest thing for your response to a project if you can be as free from preset assumptions as possible when you’re beginning,” he said. “We’ve tried to be experts at not being experts, which means working with really good experts on every project.”

His London-based Studio Heatherwick defines its projects only in terms of whether they are small, medium or large.

While Heatherwick is reluctant to categorize himself, the one constant in his work is its combination of practicality with a frequently stunning sense of poetry, putting humanity at the forefront of projects that are growing in scale along with the cities they appear in.

“Cities are bigger than ever, roads are bigger than ever, property developers are not even bothering with smaller land in places such as China and Hong Kong,” he said.

“But humans are still roughly the same size they were a few centuries ago, give or take a few centimeters.

“So how do you make big projects still relate to the human scale?”

His hive-shaped design for a wing of Singapore’s imposing Nanyang Technological University is meant to foster the kind of togetherness and sociability denied by the building’s otherwise long, stark corridors – to the extent that Singapore’s education minister declared at that it would “increase the birth rate of Singapore.”

“We underrate our human sensitivities and how places change behavior dramatically,” he said.

“We will look back – the lessons are already there – and regret that insensitivity in handling scale, and that’s what I’m very interested in.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 01, 2014, on page 13.

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