Hong Kong pays tribute to the work of the UK design firm with an installation at Pacific Place and an exhibition at PMQ. Tamsin Bradshaw reports.
British designer Thomas Heatherwick is almost a household name. He is perhaps best known for his design for the Olympic Cauldron for the London 2012 Olympic Games, his beautifully spikey UK Pavilion at the Expo 2010 in Shanghai, and the delightfully fun Spun chair for Magis.
The Spun chair is one of those creations that immediately sparks conversation, and prompts some out-of-box thinking. “It seems to be an object people respond to,” says Heatherwick Studio’s Craig Miller. “It’s part toy, part furniture. People always ask, ‘Do you sit in it?'”
This line of questioning is in evidence this month at Pacific Place, where Heatherwick Studio is showcasing an installation that features an army of Spun chairs. The public is invited to sit on the chairs – and to play with them. “I was there the other day, and there were kids, and parents. It’s a great icebreaker,” says Miller.
Also part of the installation is a film documenting Heatherwick Studio’s experience in revitalising Pacific Place. The design studio has been involved with the development since 2008, when it first came on board to give Pacific Place a facelift and a new identity.
“In some shopping malls, there is sensory overload, everything screams at you. So our brief was to be the backdrop,” says Miller, who lived in Hong Kong until April this year and who was Lead Architect – Hong Kong and is still heavily involved in the project. “We thought about how you can make an experience that is markedly different [from other shopping malls],” he says. “That put the focus for us on what you can touch and feel. For example, how many times a day do you touch a lift button when you’re in Hong Kong? Lots. And they’re all the same. What if the little things like this were different? We think of it as a collection of details that comes together to create an experience.”
Heatherwick Studio continues to work with Pacific Place, updating details here and there, such as the recent revamp of the lift lobbies on the fourth floor; these are now encapsulated in beautiful timber cladding, and there are tactile, ribbed wood pods you can sit on.
“It’s an ongoing conversation with the building, it’s one we’re happy to continue,” says Miller, who explains that the mall, office towers and hotels all had to stay open while Heatherwick Studio updated the spaces. This was a challenge in itself, but once that has helped the studio grow significantly. “Pacific Place has been an incredible project for the studio,” he says.
It’s fitting, then, that Pacific Place’s open area circled by the food court plays host to the Spun chair installation. “The exhibition space is in many ways the heart of Pacific Place,” says Miller.
Pacific Place is not the only place you can see Heatherwick Studio’s work this month. At PMQ, Qube gallery is also exhibiting the studio’s creations at New British Inventors: Inside Heatherwick Studio. “This is a case study of us, and our approach,” says Miller, who also points out that it’s about celebrating British design and invention as a whole.
Supported by the British Council, HK and the GREAT Britain campaign, the exhibition presents models, materials and videos that explain the thought process behind some of the design firm’s best-known designs – including, of course, the Olympic torch, the UK Pavilion, and the Spun chair.
Visit Pacific Place between now and 24 September 2015 to try the Spun chair for yourself. The PMQ exhibition will be on until 23 September 2015.