The Dynamic Shape of Falling Liquids

Posted by on March 10, 2012

Thomas Heatherwick has been steadily building an incredibly impressive body of work. He knocked everyone’s socks off with Seed Cathedral for Shanghai’s Expo 2010, and this summer the cauldron holding the Olympic flame will be his design.

In his interview for Architectural Digest in the April 2012 issue, he spoke about the playfulness of his designs. Actually, he took slight issue with the interviewer’s question about his ‘playful’ creations, asking instead if everyone else’s work is too serious. From the article:

“When things look like they’re trying to be fun, I have a slight wariness – it’s fun, kids! I’m interested in how you underpin things with a kind of gravity. If you manage that gravity, your designs can be as light as you want.”

I think that is brilliant.

My current favorite of his designs is Bleigiessen.

He was commissioned to fill an eight-story high atrium space above a pool of water in the center of an office building. However, the building was finished, so the sculpture had to fit through a standard sized front door. The elegant solution he devised was a system of glass spheres and tension wire.

The shape was inspired by the German custom of Bleigiessen. On New Year’s EveĀ small chunks of lead are melted in a spoon held over a candle. The molten lead is then poured from the spoon into a bowl of cold water, where it hardens almost immediately. Each person tries to determine what he or she ‘sees’ in the hardened lead, much like trying to find shapes in the clouds on a summer day. The shape of the lead determines the future of that person for the year to come.

Heatherwick’s studio produced over 400 lead pieces, before settling on one five centimeter piece that would become the basis for the sculpture. That bit of lead was extrapolated into a 30 meter tall instillation using 142,000 glass spheres suspended on 27,000 high tensile steel wires.

It is more than a bit mind boggling. The end result somehow makes liquid look lighter than air.

All images from Thomas Heatherwick’s website

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