I was back at the V&A yesterday, seeing the exhibition of work from the Heatherwick Design Studio. It was as inspirational as the other V&A exhibition on British Design 1948-2012 was disappointing. The extent to which this studio has developed a design ethos based around radical innovation and experimentation with materials is truly fantastic. The work in the exhibition ranges from large architectural projects such as the design for a new biomass power station on reclaimed land in Teesside, shown above, to newspaper booths for the centre of London, shown below.

A key theme of the studio is that the process of design and the process of making cannot be divorced. You cannot be an effective designer if you do not really understand the process of making. I quote from Heatherwick’s introduction to the catalogue:

“I became interested in the historical figure of the master builder, who had combined the roles and skills of the builder, craftsman, engineer and designer, which meant that the generation of ideas was connected to the process of turning them into reality. However , with the establishment of the Institute of Civil Engineers in 1818 and the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1834, engineering and architecture seemed to have evolved into elite professions with separate identities from the rest of the building trade. Meanwhile, the craftsman became the employee of a new figure called the general contractor, whose interests were predominantly financial. Now, not only was the designer of the building discouraged from having a creative connection to materials and practical making, but the craftsman lost his prestige, beginning the slow decline in skills and expertise within the building industry”.

This is such an insightful observation and common across many areas of life where the race to specialisation and qualification has actually left few if any people who can actual integrate the various perspectives needed for any complex endeavour.