A loose review of Humanise by Thomas Heatherwick

(Disclaimer: I haven’t read it)

Free will and Originality

You are nothing more or less than the result of everything that came before you. The culture you were born into, the parenting you enjoyed (or endured), your genetics or the environment that made you who you are. If we take this logic to the realm of design, originality and authorship are nothing short of a myth. Originality can only be the more or less skilful combination of the architecture incorporated to your mental library, recombined in some sort of novel form.


I disagree with Heatherwick’s self-aggrandizing claims in his book that I am loosely reviewing. Unlike him, I think the problem with architecture is not boredom, it is ignorance. Such a marketing stunt of a book can only work in a system where the education of the architect is the most fragmentary I know.

The aspiring architect today is forced to start university three times, being thrown precariously into practise after only two years of education, preventing him or her to develop a critical position towards the discipline. He or she is then only to return to Uni sporadically, to mainly produce articles, ‘research pieces’ and answer legal cases. This system prevents any technical knowledge to develop but also any meaningful design skills. Architects finish their Uni tribulations with only a couple of design projects under their belt, to be finally promoted to Part 3 architects, in a very telling tittle, that denotes its lack of cohesiveness -as if architecture could be developed in separate portions. The system is then perpetuated, as the confused Part 3s have to now lead the Part 2s and 1s in practice.

The Caring Architect or the Architect Able to Care

Great architects are not necessarily the ones on magazines covers, behind lecture stands and holding prizes. They are the ones that care for what they do. To do so, one must have first developed an ability to care. A limited design exposure during formative years translates into the inability to produce and triage design ideas and the inaptitude to produce technical documents that reflect these later on. Equally, it makes discerning the good from the bad, the useful from the accessory or the consequent from the banal all the more difficult. Such a system produces architects unable to care. A true architectural myopia that makes aspiring architects easy prey for Heatherwick’s claims, and the sad substrate for a shallow architectural culture.

Back to free will and authorship, non-existent other than as an accumulation of what came before, the only great architects are the ones that have been lucky enough to have enjoyed a wealth of education and exposure to design projects early on. If you are a Part-Architect, you are already at a disadvantage.

However, I believe the environment of the architect is, at least partly, internal. One can become the sort of architect that expands his or her mental -and physical- library with nourishing examples. I would advise to immediately drop Heatherwick’s book back on the shelf and spend some time looking at boring plans, sections and construction details. Your architecture will thank you.