On arriving in London, each of the 204 national teams competing in the 2012 Olympic Games received a special object, inscribed with the name of its country. Each slightly different from the other, these objects have sculpturally beautiful forms, made in polished copper.
During the opening ceremony, teams entered the Olympic stadium, a chosen team member bearing their country’s precious object. One by one, in a clearing at the centre of the growing crowd of athletes, these artefacts were laid out as offerings, forming a large-scale pattern on the ground that radiates like the petals of a flower.
After these copper components were illuminated by the London 2012 Olympic Torch, the first one began rising silently from the ground, carried upwards on a long fine stem, followed in circular waves by all the others. Over the next minute or so, the 204 separate flames converged to form one great flame of unity surging into the sky, making this a giant kinetic sculpture in the centre of the stadium that symbolises the coming together in peace of 204 nations for two weeks of sporting competition.
At the Closing Ceremony the Olympic cauldron opened out and divided once more into its constituent objects. It was the studio’s intention that the Cauldron would be a representation of the extraordinary, albeit transitory, togetherness that the Olympic Games symbolise.
Neil joined Heatherwick Studio in 2005. He immediately proved instrumental to the team on multiple aspects of the £120m Pacific Place redevelopment in Hong Kong, from the design of the new restaurant, to overseeing the construction of many elements of the mall interior.
Since then, he has been the project designer on many of the studio’s high profile projects, such as the New Bus for London, overseeing the design from inception through to detail and manufacture. The first bus was launched on the streets of London in February 2012, with 600 vehicles set to be delivered by 2016. Neil also played a key role in the concept delivery of the Garden Bridge, an exciting project that the studio is currently working on with Transport for London and Arup, designed to link North and South London with a garden.
Neil also coordinates the design of the studio’s exhibitions, most recently, ‘Heatherwick Studio: Designing the extraordinary’. It ran during the summer of 2012 at the Victoria and Albert museum in London, and was the museum’s most successful paid contemporary show to date. The studio is currently gearing up for an exhibition tour of North America.
Cape Town, South Africa
How do you turn forty-two vertical concrete tubes into a place to experience contemporary culture?
The brief was to reinvent the historic Grain Silo at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, as a not-for-profit cultural institution housing the most significant collection of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora.
Our first thoughts wrestled with the extraordinary physical facts of the building. There is no large open space within the densely packed tubes and it is not possible to experience these volumes from inside. Rather than strip out the evidence of the building’s industrial heritage, we wanted to find a way to celebrate it. We could either fight a building made of concrete tubes or enjoy its tube-iness.
Unlike many conversions of historic buildings which have grand spaces ready to be repurposed, this building has none. The project became about imagining an interior carved from within an infrastructural object.
The solution we developed was to carve galleries and a central circulation space from the silos’ cellular concrete structure, creating a cathedral-like central atrium filled with light from a glass roof.
The other silo bins will be carved away above ground level to create gallery spaces for the Zeitz MOCAA permanent collection and international travelling exhibitions.
From the outside, the greatest visible change to the Silo’s monumental structure will be the addition of pillowed glazing panels, inserted into the existing geometry of the upper floors, which will bulge outward as if gently inflated. By night, this will transform the building into a glowing lantern or beacon in the harbour.