If you want to to see how design and real life intersect, get up to the Cooper-Hewitt to see “Provocations, the Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio” Through photographs, models, drawings you see how the studio of UK architect Thomas Heatherwick has responded to some real-life challenges, such as designing the UK pavilion for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai – and you’ll also get insight into the thought process, which originates in a “provocation” or question the studio asks itself. In the case of the UK’s pavilion, the provocation arose over 10 years earlier, when, designing temporary garden structures for the grounds of Belsay Hall, the studio asked itself how could it build a structure out of the architectural equivalent of matches! You’ll get to see the model for the sitooteries they created out of plywood and steel for Belsay Hall in1999. Then go look at the model for the World Expo Pavilion to see how they expanded that theme.
I especially enjoyed the model for a Rolling Bridge across the Thames. Based on an actual bridge near London’s Paddington Station that the studio designed, when high ships pass under it, the bridge opens and folds in on itself like a snail. I was lucky to be at the exhibit when they used the model to demonstrate how this works – it’s really fun to see. Check the Cooper-Hewitt website for demonstration times. In addition to these larger projects, Heatherwick has also designed stores, news stands, furniture and handbags. They are currently re-designing London’s double-decker bus (in the exhibit)! Heatherwick Studio has taken on projects around the globe, including the Learning Hub at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, and Pier 55 on the Hudson River in NYC.
Be sure to stop on the second floor, to look at the 18th and 19th century architectural models, especially the staircases in the style of the French compagnonnage movement, whose grace and precision are testament to the talents of the woodworking masters who made them.
On the first floor, great memories of my trips to Mali and Ghana were triggered by the exhibit of African textiles from the museum’s permanent collection, chosen by the architect David Adjaye. It will come as no surprise that many of the textiles he chose have strong geometric elements. In addition to prestige Kente cloth, you’ll also find adire (indigo and white) cloth
from Nigeria and Gambia – each made with a different technique, as well as an adinkra (symbol-language) wrapper from Ghana, hand woven cottons from Nigeria and the Ivory Coast, cut-thread and mud cloths from Nigeria and Mali. Make sure to take a look at the men’s hats in the room’s niches, which are also part of the exhibit.
On your visit, take advantage of The Pen – as you go through the galleries, you can touch it to a label about an item, and the information on the item is sent to a unique website, where you can view your “collection” at your leisure; or you can use the pen’s tip to draw on the interactive tables in the museum. It’s really, really cool.