February 2013: B.U.G. (Beautiful.Useful.Green) Design

                                                The Seed Cathedral

“Our challenge was to do one powerful thing that had clarity,” architect Thomas Heatherwick says of the Seed Cathedral, presented for the United Kingdom’s pavilion at the 2010 World Expo in China.

The theme of the Expo was the future of cities, which the Heatherwick team used as a starting point to consider the relationship of cities to nature. To create the Seed Cathedral, they worked with the England-based Kew Gardens, the world’s first major botanical institute, and its Millennium Seed Bank project, with a mission to collect and preserve 25 percent of the world’s wild plant species.seed cathedral

seeds

For a whole new
photographic perspective on seeds, check out Seeds: Time Capsules of Life, authored by an expert from the Millennium Seed Bank.

Why is it beautiful? The Seed Cathedral is a building with texture.  Sixty thousand silvery, tingling hairs protrude from every surface and raise the height of the building to six stories. At the tip of each hair (identical lengths of acrylic rod) are seeds encased in a glass-like tip.

By day, the cathedral is lit by sunlight. By night, tiny light sources within the rods illuminate the seeds inside and the tips of the hairs on the outside. “They appear as thousands of dancing points of light that sway and tingle in the breeze,” says Heatherwick. A fitting image for a building nicknamed in Chinese, simply, Dandelion.

making

“For this future-gazing Expo, seeds seemed to the ultimate of unfulfilled potential and future promise,” writes Heatherwick in his book, Making.

Why is it  useful? The Seed Cathedral effectively communicates what is on the inside – 250,000 seeds from the Millennium Seed Bank – from the outside. It surprises with simplicity, and with stunning ingenuity. But it also makes us consider nature in a new light by effectively elevating the humble seed to that of a precious, and rare, stone. What better way to emphasize the importance of nature in our cities of the future?

Why is it green? “Inside the Seed Cathedral, you were at the most bio-diverse point in Shanghai,” explains Heatherwick. Those thousands of seeds held, and illuminated, within the cathedral were later distributed among British and Chinese schools and botanical institutions. But truly, Heatherwick Studio succeeded in creating a magical structure that allows millions of people to be wooed, and awed, by the power of the natural world.  (He won the gold medal for Pavilion design, too).

*Check out Sally’s blog for more B.U.G. inspiration.*

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