Icon 173: Thomas Heatherwick, Paola Antonelli, Paul Priestman and the legacy of Boris Johnson 27.09.17

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In our latest issue, we interview superstar designer Heatherwick as he prepares to launch a host of landmark projects around the world

In our interview this month, Thomas Heatherwick argues that the country has lost its appetite for bold, boundary-pushing projects. The subtext is, of course, the cancellation of his own contribution to London’s public realm, the Garden Bridge. But I wonder if Heatherwick’s contention really holds water. Have we really lost our nerve? Or is it possible that people got fed up with baubles dreamt up by politicians that all too often failed.

That the London Eye was probably one of the better Millennium projects tells you all you need to know about New Labour’s era of follies. Strangely, this faith in grand projets found a vigorous champion in Boris Johnson during his tenure as London’s mayor. As Londoners found out, and sometimes to their cost, Johnson was not afraid of grand gestures. Indeed, they seemed to attract him like a moth to a flame. But he was less good at critical, long-term thinking, preferring style over substance: cable cars to nowhere, pointless sculptural steel structures.

Was the bridge merely the straw that broke the camel’s back? With Johnson despatched to sully the position of Foreign Secretary, and a new mayor who seems more engaged with the provision of mass housing, it could be that the bridge’s protracted death brings the curtain down on what critic Tom Dyckhoff recently dubbed the age of spectacle.

It would appear to be an opportune time for reassessment. What seems glaringly obvious is the need to invest in infrastructure, but that avenue is laden with pitfalls. While we continue to squabble over the wisdom of a third runway at Heathrow, Turkey will soon have completed phase one of the largest airport in the world. Even though we cannot compete with the rampant growth of high-speed rail in China – despite the role of British designers in its rolling stock – the humble HS2 seems finally to have cleared the signifiant legal challenges to its legitimacy. Yet there are enough naysayers still out there to derail the plans. If we are to meet the challenge of post-Brexit Britain, we need to think hard about where to direct our dwindling resources. Only pragmatists need apply.



James McLachlan




On the cover: Portrait by Felicity McCabe of Thomas Heatherwick with a window model for Zeitz MOCAA





Scene The hammer falls on Robin Hood Gardens, the Garden Bridge and a classic car

Maison & Objet The message in Paris this year: small is beautiful

UK Construction Week Lessons from the sharp end of the building industry

Diary Our pick of exhibitions in November

Crimes against design Enough with the gifs!

Opinion: Reinier de Graaf Architects disclose their innate nobility



Paul Priestman Trainspotting with the high priest of transport design

The end of branding? Stephen Bayley lights one up in honour of Joe Camel

Behind the scenes Prototypes are stepping into the spotlight, says Riya Patel

Icon of the month Is the Vipp soap dispenser too clean for the real world?

Q&A: Paola Antonelli With her latest exhibition, the MoMA curator breaks new ground once more

Heatherwick museum


Thomas Heatherwick The superstar designer at the eye of a storm

The return of history As a wave of architects looks to the past for inspiration, Tim Abrahams asks why

Brutalism What the hell is it? Edwin Heathcote (re)considers

The legacy of Boris Johnson The former London mayor‘s trail of failure and fiasco

Icon of the month The proposed mutilation of Wood Street police station


Review: Ettore Sottsass Met Breuer gets under the skin of the Memphis master

Review: Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? A difficult question gets a persuasive if partial answer

Rethink: Currency Koln Studio gives money a truly international flavour

Obsession: Bad books The irresistible allure of the mediocre monograph


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