The English countryside is known for its rolling hills, green fields and luscious gardens, but British designer Thomas Heatherwick’s studio is located in the most urban of settings, near King’s Cross Station in the heart of London. Despite this, it appears that the multidisciplinary artist is always in touch with the natural context surrounding this frenetic city, and his penchant for bringing moments of rural respite to urban settings is making an impact both home and abroad.
The latest project by Heatherwick’s firm to achieve planning approval is a case in point: the new Maggie’s Centre in Yorkshire was given the go-ahead last month and will be the 19th building dedicated to the support of cancer patients. Maggie’s Centres were the brainchild of the late Maggie Keswick Jencks, the wife of famous architectural writer Charles Jencks, who believed in the power of great buildings to uplift people.
Maggie’s Centre, Leeds
The new center will be built adjacent to an expansive existing hospital, and Heatherwick’s design aims to preserve and enhance the existing green space as much as possible in a location where landscaping is limited. “Instead of taking away the open space, we wanted to make a whole building out of a garden,” said Heatherwick. The resulting complex appears as a cluster of huge potted plants with soft, sculpted façades and explosions of luscious planting sprouting from their rooftops.
Learning Hub at Nanyang Technological University
The concept for the center is reminiscent of another recently completed project by Heatherwick’s Studio, which achieves a similar effect on a much larger scale. The Learning Hub at Nanyang Technological University is composed of a dozen plant pot-shaped towers of curvaceous concrete, each topped with native trees and complemented with planting on each of the development’s tiered balconies.
Pier 55, New York
While this vertical vision of urban greenery has been brought to fruition, two of Heatherwick’s major ventures into the world of landscape architecture are still on the drawing board. In New York, prospects for the designer’s ambitious Pier 55 — an intricate, undulating parkland on stilts — appear hopeful, with billionaire Barry Diller promising to pay “whatever it costs” to bring the project to reality.
The Garden Bridge, London
Similarly, the contentious Garden Bridge in London looks set for construction, with Moxon Architects recently appointed as consultant to the main contractor, Bouygues TP and Cimolai. Heatherwick’s sculptural concrete columns and High Line-style linear park will not come cheap, but the project looks set to become a popular new landmark on the Thames when it opens later this decade.
Maggie’s Centre, Leeds
While the pros and cons of these large public projects will continue to be debated in the months to come, the benefits of the Maggie’s Centre in Leeds are surely more clear-cut. Heatherwick’s knack for the creation of architectural gardens looks like an ideal fit in relation to the philosophies of Jencks, and will undoubtedly provide a valuable retreat for many people upon its completion around 2019.