As the V&A today opens the first major solo exhibition devoted to the studio of Thomas Heatherwick's, best known for designs such as the British pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo and the new Routemaster bus for London, our June issue ('Sacred Spaces') investigates one of the designer's more unusual projects: a giant aviary in Mumbai, which aims to preserve the city's vultures and, with them, the funeral rites of the Zoroastrians.
The aviary will sit on top of the "Towers of Silence" in Mumbai, where the deceased are disposed of according to the Zoroastrian custom of "sky burial". This involves vultures and other birds of prey stripping cadavers to the bone in as little as three days – a gory process that Heatherwick's addition will screen from view.
credit Heatherwick Studio
During our cover photoshoot with legendary photographer David Bailey, Heatherwick agonised about whether being photographed with a vulture might appear disrespectful to the Zoroastrian community. "Just stop f–ing worrying," Bailey said. "It's my job to worry," Heatherwick protested meekly. "And it's my job to make people trust me," Bailey replied. "So, are you going to f–ing trust me or not?"
Bailey held Heatherwick by the wrist, as if to take his pulse, and put an arm on his shoulder, stroking him as though smoothing ruffled feathers. He relaxed him with his trademark banter, littered with expletives. "I shot Margaret Thatcher with a throwaway camera," he chuckled, as Bob Dylan blared over loudspeakers. "Sent them to the chemists to be developed. They were a bit surprised! Vogue bet me I wouldn't call her 'Toots'. And I f–ing did ... twice!"
We loved Bailey's 1968 picture of his ex-wife Catherine Deneuve with a stuffed flamingo and hoped that the idea of shooting Heatherwick with a turkey vulture might appeal. We were delighted when Bailey agreed to the photoshoot ("It was just such an odd request," he said, generously waiving his usual rates and clearing space in his hectic schedule) and are thrilled with the haunting results.
Heatherwick Studio: Designing the Extraordinary opens at the V&A today and runs until 20 September 2012.
credit Christopher Turner