Wrapped in foil

Thomas Heatherwick’s striking futuristic design of an arts centre in Wales has earned his studio a coveted RIBA Award.

Heatherwick Studio won a competition to design eight low-cost facilities for 16 start-up art enterprises for Aberystwyth Art Centre, which is part of the University of Wales. The units were made using basic and inexpensive materials, but the unusual design adds a unique and futuristic edge.

These Creative Units recently earned Thomas Heatherwick recognition in the form of a Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Award. RIBA awards building design that have high architectural standards and “make a substantial contribution to the local environment”.

Rather than one campus-style block, Heatherwick Studio chose to set eight smaller units among the trees on the property. The units are simple timber frame sheds that have been split down the centre, to create the 16, and pulled apart to allow light and ventilation in the shared entrance area in the middle. The units are covered in thin stainless steel sheets. While this material is inexpensive, it is neither rigid enough to support the structure nor does it insulate well. Heatherwick Studio overcame this problem by crinkling the sheets and spraying a CFC-free insulation foam onto the back of the crinkled surface.

The interiors of the units are very basic, allowing it to be easily adapted to the needs of the various artists. The units might look out of place among the greenery of the Aberystyth campus but Heatherwick believes otherwise. He says the bright colours of the natural environment surrounding the units are reflected on the units’ surface, making it more lively by imitating the environment and blending in harmoniously.

Watch the Talk with Thomas Heatherwick