Thomas Heatherwick: The Master of Design

His creations go on show at the V&A this month. Here, the designer gives Marcus Field the grand tour

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The Independent Culture

To say Thomas Heatherwick has an enquiring mind would be an understatement. In conversation, the designer, 42, flits so fast between subjects that the effect is dizzying; one minute he is talking about the impact of the industrial revolution, the next about the tiny motor that drives the lens of a digital camera. He is every inch the mad inventor of popular imagination, his hair a riot of curls that stand up wherever he pushes them, his body alive with gestures, his floor-length red scarf sweeping along as if trying to keep up with him.

Today Heatherwick is at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to talk about the objects in the collection that inspire him, and also about the exhibition of his work which opens at the museum later this month. Featuring in the show will be examples of the creations that have made him one of the most sought-after designers in the world, from tiny Christmas cards and pieces of furniture, right up to the new double-decker bus for London (600 of which are due to be rolled out) and the £166m refurbishment of a shopping centre in Hong Kong.

Dreaming up wonderful objects is in Heatherwick's blood. He was born in London in 1970 into a family of remarkable creative talent; his grandfather was a musician and writer, and his grandmother, a German-Jewish refugee, set up the textile-design studio for Marks & Spencer (the V&A recently acquired some of her work). His mother is an authority on beads, while his father, who trained as a pianist, worked to encourage the creativity of children and adults. After a childhood spent poring over books of inventions and making things at home, Heatherwick went on to study 3D design at Manchester Polytechnic and the Royal College of Art before opening his own design studio in London in 1994.

Not surprisingly, Heatherwick is a big fan of the V&A. "For me, the thing that's so special about this museum is that it's not prescribed what is or isn't supposed to be in here," he says. "It's just amazing things from the made world, whether they are buildings, paintings, sculpture or functional design objects. And that's why I'm so happy that our studio has a chance to show our work here."

Click the image at the top for Heatherwick's thoughts on just some of the extraordinary items on display


Heatherwick Studio: 'Designing the Extraordinary', V&A, London SW7, 31 May to 30 Sept. 'Making' by Thomas Heatherwick (Thames & Hudson, £38) is published on 28 May

To order your copy of Thomas Heatherwick's book at the special price of £28 (including UK mainland delivery, overseas shipping costs on request) call Littlehampton Book Services on 01903 828503, quoting "TH182".