I have worked with architects, engineers and contractors for nearly 20 years, managing the design and construction of all manner of facilities. As more than 18 of those years were in the public sector (15+ federal – military, 3+ municipal), function over form was unfortunately a primary design consideration. Where form did come into play, it was usually a more decorative stone face instead of some brick. Too often, I was working with budgets set down four to five or more years earlier, and in some cases with unchangeable scopes of work – the military construction (MILCON) program is rather rigid in that respect to ensure what is authorized is built (getting permission and funding for one thing but building another is verbotten). You can imagine that the crystal ball gets a little foggy out that far. And, by the time you get the funding to design and build, the budgets are usually too little to do what is needed, requiring creative scope cutting to get the most product for the buck. And that is why almost no federal, and very few municipal buildings are anything other than sterile designs that serve a functional and nearly never a visual need.
So you can probably see why architect Thomas Heatherwick, and his firm Heatherwick Studio are such a treat for me. His designs are visually stunning, incredibly creative and are slap-the-forehead wake-ups to what we should be able to do at no more cost than traditional design. I was amazed at the very innovative solution to a common construction requirement (no spoiler…it’s at the 4 minute point in the video), and even more amazed at the focus of his talk: the British contribution to the 2010 Shanghai Expo, the Seed Cathedral. Imagine deliberately designing a building with 60,000 penetrations…and then making it work.