A Cathedral of Seeds will Take your Breath Away
Notable contemporary architect, Thomas Heatherwick tells how he built a temple of thousands of seeds.
Influenced by his mother, a bead collector and salesperson in London, Thomas Heatherwick is today one of the world’s most unusual and brilliant architects and designers. He’s also considered one of the most influential. His projects —ranging from designs for revolving chairs in public spaces, to buses, folding bridges, Buddhist temples, and even power plants— are distinguished by his embrace of the world and by practical solutions that incorporate nature in all its form and textures.
One of his most radiant projects is the Seed Cathedral, which served as the UK Pavilion at Expo 2010 in Shanghai. In that year, the exhibition revolved around the future of cities. Heatherwick and his team needed to devise something to both represent the United Kingdom and, at the same time, to refer to urban planning, with awareness of the challenges faced in all major cities today.
He chose, as he often does in his projects, to incorporate the natural world into the pavilion and, to focus on his own country, coming to a brilliant decision: to talk about the love in the British imagery for plants and gardens. For a long time, but especially during the Victorian era, the English have tried to incorporate nature into their cities. It’s no coincidence then that the first modern public park is located in London and that it includes the world’s first botanical institute. Paradoxically, a spearhead of advanced Western culture, it’s also had a delirious affair with botany —and this oxymoron is what Heatherwick portrayed in the work.
The architect and his team built a structure of steel and wood through which protruded thousands of fiber optic cables. At the ends of these some 66,000 seeds were inserted, like the jewels of life caught in amber. During the day, the transparent cables (flexible enough to move with the wind) captured the light and illuminated the interior of the structure. At night, they led the light from the inside back outside so that the botanical temple could shine. Inside was nothing else but a refreshing silence.
In its eccentric beauty, Heatherwick’s project seemed to have landed from another planet, or perhaps like a huge seed in itself. The processes of its conception allows us to see the genius who celebrated both the notion of size, and the sacred quality of life embodied in a tiny object. In this TED Talks video, the architect describes exactly how he created one of the strangest and most fascinating buildings in history.
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