Big Man on Campus
Nicholas Tamarin -- Interior Design, 8/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
When Thomas Heatherwick won a competition to design the Aberystwyth Arts Centre at Aberystwyth University in Wales, he was reluctant to dilute the rural character of the site with a single monolithic building. Instead, he built eight small ones nestled among the pine, oak, and birch trees. Seven of the eight 850-square-foot structures contain two identical studios; the eighth one is a single.
The school provides the studios free of charge to artists-in-residence or rents to small creative start-ups and local artists. "One of my reasons for renting was because of the light in the studios. It's so beautiful," says painter Mary Lloyd Jones, who works on her abstract canvases there.
Heatherwick's master touch was to use a futuristic stainless steel just .005 inch thick, about the same as a Coke can. Sourced that thin, the material was less expensive, but unfortunately it was neither rigid nor insulated. To firm it up, Heatherwick Studio passed the sheets between two wooden rollers in a contraption akin to a Victorian mangle, the type of clothespress common back when Aberystwyth was founded in 1872.
The machine gave the ultrathin stainless a crinkled appearance reminiscent of the foil walls of Andy Warhol's New York studio, the Factory. The designers then sprayed a CFC-free rigid polyurethane foam on the back of the metal for insulation. Resulting panels are not only affordable, solid, and well insulated but also accommodating of the timber-framed structures' eaves, windowsills, and other details. In addition, the nonuniform surface reflects jumbled glimpses of the surrounding forest and the sky.
"As the young trees and grass begin to mature, the units will feel further embedded in the environment," Heatherwick says. "We're like architectural tailors, building simple forms with an extraordinary skin."
This isn't his first go-round with metal manipulation. He used 55 tons of hot-rolled steel for a Longchamp boutique in New York and wrapped a boiler house at Guy's Hospital, London, in woven stainless. It's not likely to be his last either. His upcoming show at London's Haunch of Venison gallery includes five aluminum benches produced by the world's largest extrusion machine.
THROUGHOUT LOWFIELD TIMBER FRAMES: FRAMES. NATURALIGHT SYSTEMS: CUSTOM SKYLIGHTS. RENOTHERM: INSULATION. PACKMANLUCAS: STRUCTURAL ENGINEER. MAX FORDHAM CONSULTING ENGINEERS: ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEER. ADRIAN TESTER: MEP. EOM ELECTRICAL CONTRACTORS: ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. EDWARDS & OWEN: PLUMBING CONTRACTOR. ELL HUGHES & SONS: LANDSCAPING CONTRACTOR. GARETH PUGH STEEL FRAMED BUILDINGS: STEELWORK. AWS TURNER FAIN: GLASSWORK.