11 times Heatherwick Studio declined to comment

Oh good, it's that bloody bridge again. Image: Heatherwick Studio.

The time it was rumoured to be at work on Google's new headquarters in California.

 

“I can confirm Heatherwick Studio and BIG are working on a joint design project for Google in Mountain View, California. We can't give any further comment at this point," Heatherwick Studio's Tom Coupe told Dezeen.

 

And the time it was set to repeat the trick in London.

 

Heatherwick Studios declined to comment when contacted by City A.M.

 

The time in 2008 when people started worrying about the spiky sculpture it wanted to send to Shanghai, sparking panic about safety and possibly also Anglo-Sino relations.

 

Consultants on the Shanghai project are understood to be worried following the design problems that surrounded Heatherwick's B of the Bang sculpture, according to Building magazine. A week before the 184ft steel work – commissioned to mark the Commonwealth Games – was unveiled in 2005, the tip of one of its many giant spikes fell off.

Lai Pak Hung, managing director at Davis Langdon & Seah, which is working on the Shanghai scheme, reportedly said: "We can't say we don't have any worries. Given it's the Expo, it's not just about safety – it's political. It could affect the UK's relationship with the Chinese government."

Heatherwick's studio declined to comment yesterday.

 

The time when Thomas Heatherwick offended four other architecture practices by publicly slating their plans for the redevelopment of the Royal Mail Mount Pleasant sorting office.

 

Heatherwick declined to comment.

 

The time when opponents of the Garden Bridge launched their “folly for London” competition, to highlight their contention that it was a total waste of public money.

 

The competition budget is £60 million - the amount of public money earmarked for the bridge by by TfL and the Treasury.

The satirical competition has been designed to poke fun at the real Garden Bridge and was timed to co-incide with a fundraising event for the Garden Bridge at Harrods.

Heatherwick Studios declined to comment.

 

The time it looked like then London mayor Boris Johnson may have broken public procurement rules, by taking Heatherwick to meetings with sponsors before inviting any other practice to apply for the job.

 

LBC's Political Editor Theo Usherwood reports: "When you want to fix your roof, you don't just ring up one builder and say how much. You ring up three or four builders to get a quote, compare the prices and make sure you get the best value for money.

"Boris Johnson should be doing the same at City Hall with the Garden Bridge - which is relying on millions of pounds of tax-payers' money.

Heatherwick Studios told LBC they do not comment on private business meetings. 

 

The time it emerged that Heatherwick met Boris or one of his deputies at least five times before the formal launch of the competitive procurement process for the Garden Bridge.

TfL has also been contacted for comment. Heatherwick Studio declined to comment.

(Heatherwick won the bid, by the way.)

 

The time the London Assembly said that all this was a bit rum, really.

A committee of elected London Assembly members criticised the mayor over the tender process for the 60,000-pound design contract for the new bridge, a pedestrian river crossing which would create a new green space in the middle of the city.

The committee said Johnson met five times with the winning designer before the procurement process began. One meeting was during a taxpayer-funded trip to San Francisco to seek funding for the 175-million pound project.

"The mayor's actions undermined the integrity of the process in terms of the contact he had. No other bidders had that contact with him," Len Duvall, chair of the committee that produced the report, told Reuters.

The contract was won by Thomas Heatherwick, who previously designed an "Olympic Cauldron" for the London 2012 games and a new model of double-decker bus for the capital. A spokeswoman for Heatherwick's studio declined to comment.

 

The time it looked suspiciously like Boris Johnson had wanted Heatherwick to win all along.

From the Architects’ Journal:

Transport for London was instructed that its chairman, mayor Boris Johnson, wanted the organisation to support Thomas Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge proposal eight weeks before it held the bridge design contest the designer went on to win, it has emerged.

A December 2012 TfL briefing note released following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made by the AJ makes clear the mayor’s support for their scheme in its opening paragraph. This and accompanying material released under the FOI response has sparked renewed calls for the National Audit Office to investigate.

Thomas Heatherwick declined to comment.

 

The time Boris’ successor as mayor threw a spanner in the works.

The AJ again:

London’s new mayor has effectively suspended work on the Garden Bridge because of concerns that an enabling project at Temple Tube station will lead to more public money being spent on the £175 million project.

Heatherwick Studio declined to comment.

 

This time.

At time of writing, Heatherwick Studio has yet to respond to a request for comment.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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On Walter Benjamin, and the “Arcades Project”

Passage Verdue, Paris. Image: LPLT/Wikimedia Commons.

In 1940 a small group of refugees were turned away at the French-Spanish border. Having fled the Nazi invasion of France, they hoped to find safety in Spain. One of their number, a German-Jewish philosopher and writer, intended to have travelled onwards to America, where he would certainly be safe. So distraught was he by the refusal he met at the border that he took his own life.

The writer in question was Walter Benjamin, the prominent critical theorist who has contributed so much to our understanding of urban society, and he died with a manuscript close at hand. When asked previously if the briefcase of notes was really necessary to a man fleeing for his life he had replied, “I cannot risk losing it. It must be saved. It is more important than I am.”

The work that Benjamin died protecting was the Arcades Project. It was to be his magnus opus, intended by the author to illuminate the contradictions of modern city life. But it was never finished.

To Benjamin, the subject of the work, the arcades of Paris, were relics of a past social order, where consumerism ruled. The arcades were a precursor to the modern mall, lined with all sorts of shops, cafes and other establishments where visitors could buy into the good life. The area between these two lines of businesses was covered with glass and metal roofs, much like a conservatory: it gave visitors the high street feel in an intimate, sheltered and well-lit setting. You can still find examples of such places in modern London in the Burlington and Piccadilly arcades, both off Piccadilly.

Such arcades proved hugely popular, spreading across Europe’s capitals as the 19th century progressed. By Benjamin’s time, though, his type of shopping area was losing custom to the fancy department stores, and in Paris many of them had been obliterated in Haussmann’s city reforms of the 1850s and ‘60s. Whereas Parisians could once visit 300 arcades, now only 30 remain.

Through his research Benjamin started to see the arcades as representative of a pivotal moment in social history: the point when society became focused on consumption over production. Buying the latest fad product was just an opium, he thought, dulling senses to the true nature of the world. By bringing light to this, he hoped to wake people up from the consumerism of the 19th Century and bring forth some kind of socialist utopia.


He also warned that this shiny veneer of progress was hiding the true state of things. Instead, he revered crusty old cities like contemporary Marseilles and Moscow, where social life was more honest. In this way, Benjamin contributed to the intellectual movement focused on stripping away the excess of revivalism, standing alongside architects such as Le Corbusier. 

Through his newspaper essays throughout the first half of the 20th Century, Benjamin also became one of the first thinkers to focus on urban isolation. His suggestion that we can be most alone when among such a dense mass of other people is something many in modern cities would sympathise with. His work wasn’t all doom and gloom, however, as he saw cities as our salvation, too: laboratories from where society’s problems can be worked out.

It was 2000 before an English translation of the unfinished the Arcades Project was published, but by then the work had already had a significant impact. Just as he stood on the shoulders of giants such as Baudelaire and the Surrealists, modern thinkers have drawn on his work. Benjamin's concerns about common architectural forms can be seen to inspire modern architects such as Laurie Hawkinson, Steven Holl, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.

The city of Paris itself was as much a part of the Arcade Project’s inspiration for Benjamin as was his intellectual predecessors. In his letters he repeats that it felt “more like home” than Berlin, and his days were spent marvelling at how the old and the modern exist together on the Parisian streets.

How groundbreaking the Arcades Project really was is hard to say. The fact it wasn’t finished certainly scuppered Benjamin’s plans to wake society up from its consumerist slumber, but that doesn’t make the work inconsequential. His fairytale of steel and glass is as much about the relationship between its author and Paris as it is a theoretical work. By putting the city as the main subject in human’s social history he laid the groundwork for future generations of thinkers.

Benjamin was lost to the tragic tide of the 20th century history, and his death marked the end of the project which could have changed the way we think of the urban landscape. Even if you shy away from the grandiose or don’t buy into his promises of socialist utopia, reading the work can still offer some eclectic factoids about 19th century France. At any rate, it must be acknowledged that the man gave his life to the betterment of society and the cities in which we live.