Thomas Heatherwick’s ‘Bleigiessen’ Sculpture
The Wellcome Trust, Euston Road, London
Thomas Heatherwick Studio
Thomas Heatherwick is one of the most exciting creative practitioners working in the UK today. Established in 1994, the Heatherwick Studio produces stunning and ingenious works that span the disciplines of architecture, furniture, product design, fashion, engineering, sculpture and urban planning.
The Wellcome Trust, a biomedical research charity, commissioned the studio to design a sculpture for its new international headquarters in London. The site for the sculpture was within an eight-storey high atrium space above a pool of water.
Photography: Steve Speller
'Bleigiessen' - or lead casting - is a New Year's Eve activity in central Europe. Molten lead is poured into water, producing extraordinary shapes from which your fortune can be predicted for the coming year.
The vertiginous quality of the atrium space, coupled with the presence of water, suggested the idea of exploring ways of capturing the dynamic shapes of falling liquids.
The sculpture consists of 142,000 glass spheres suspended on 27,000 high-tensile steel wires. It glows with a constantly shifting rainbow of colours, an effect created through a unique process of sandwiching reflective 'dichroic' film within the glass.
The Ormiston solution
In practical terms, the sculpture consisted of 15 tonnes of glass and just under a million metres of wire, suspended above a pool of water. Ormiston was commissioned to provide a solution that would both support the structure and become part of its essential aesthetic appearance and appeal. Durability was critical in terms of minimising degradation, in particular corrosion.
High-tensile stainless steel microcable was supplied from stock and special bespoke ferrules were manufactured to specification. The whole structure was also tensioned on spring cables to prevent movement.
In 2006 'Bleigiessen' received the prestigious Lovells Art and Work Award. It remains a permanent and iconic feature of The Wellcome Trust atrium and public tours take place on the last Friday of every month at 14.00.