Human emotion and architecture with Heatherwick’s Eliot Postma

I was researching schools in Brazil for my 12-year-old a few months ago.

The schools on the short-list were the same when it came to teachers, distance from home, and their approach to education.

But the deal breaker for me was one thing: the architectural experience inside the school.

And until I had this conversation with Eliot, I hadn’t truly understood what that experience was and why it was so important to me.

Eliot Postma has been working with Heatherwick Studio since 2010 to deliver innovative designs on numerous high-profile projects that focus on the human experience through form, craft, materiality, and sustainability.

Heatherwick and Eliot are all about reconnecting the built environment with the human emotion – and today he’s going to help us understand why that is so important.

Eliot answers some pretty big questions in this episode.

What does it mean to make places and things more joyful and fundamentally more human?

And how can architecture create the necessary solutions for the climate and biodiversity crises our planet is facing?

He uses examples from his experience working on a large portfolio of projects that span Europe, North America and Asia to bring his thoughts to life.

We hear about what solutions the studio designed for a UK cancer research charity to create a home-like and calming environment for people that have just discovered they have cancer.

And he brings to life the story of how they created the award-winning Mountain View Google campus. Google’s first ground-up campus that took 10-years to create, that spans 3-million square feet and had sustainability central to all aspects of the design.

We talk about re-earthing our cities.

The significant impact that construction has on the climate crisis and what the solutions are.

And where one of the world’s most famous design studios is looking for the next 20 years.

This is a super inspiring conversation and one that will get you thinking.

So grab that favourite beverage or throw on those running shoes, and enjoy this conversation with Eliot.

And please don’t forget to let us know what you think of this episode, leave a review and subscribe.

00:00:02:05 – 00:00:27:03
Philippa White
Welcome to the show, where we unearth new ways of looking at ever evolving lights around the world. Seen from a number of different industries, cultures and backgrounds. But there’s one thing that unites everyone I speak to. They all want to do their part to make the world better in their own unique ways. It’s a uniting passion. Whether they’re from the commercial world, third sector or public sector from the Global North or the global south.

00:00:27:15 – 00:00:32:13
Philippa White
My name is Philippa White and welcome to TIE Unearthed.

00:00:34:17 – 00:01:04:01
Philippa White
Did you know that construction is currently responsible for 39% of the global total of carbon emissions and that the lifespan of a building is on average, 40 years? Just let that sink in for a moment. Hello and welcome to episode 64 of TIE Unearthed and our first episode of this year’s season. I’ve missed you guys. Well, it’s a new year and a time for new beginnings.

00:01:04:07 – 00:01:46:24
Philippa White
Evolution and doing things differently, which is what Ty unearthed, is all about. Speaking to those people from all corners of the earth, doing their part to make the world a better place. And today we’re speaking with my extremely good friend Elliot Pasma, who I’ve known, I don’t know, since I was about seven, and who since 2010 has been working with Heatherwick Studio to deliver innovative designs on numerous high profile projects that focus on the human experience through form, craft, materiality and sustainability.

00:01:47:21 – 00:02:27:18
Philippa White
Heatherwick and Elliott are all about reconnecting the built environment with the human emotion. And today, we’re going to help you understand why that is important. As group leader Elliott currently oversees a large portfolio of projects that span Europe, North America and Asia, including the construction of 3 million square feet for the Google campus. In Mountain View, California, the transformation of the 14 acre Olympia, London site and a new opera house in Hainan, China, that we cover a lot in this conversation.

00:02:27:18 – 00:02:50:06
Philippa White
How Architecture Can Impact Human Emotions, too. The connection between architecture and biodiversity to making the world a better place through innovative architectural solutions. There’s a lot here. So grab that favorite beverage or throw on those running shoes and enjoy this conversation with Elliot.

00:02:52:13 – 00:03:01:06
Philippa White
Elliot, it is so great to have you with us today. Thank you so much for joining. Thank you for having me. So for our listeners, where where are you right now?

00:03:01:13 – 00:03:06:05
Eliot Postma
So I am in our studio space in Kings Cross in central London.

00:03:07:16 – 00:03:11:04
Philippa White
And you say our studio space. Where what?

00:03:11:04 – 00:03:24:03
Eliot Postma
Studio space? So I work for Heatherwick studio. So we’re a design firm based out of Kings Cross in central London. And I’m in one of our buildings here. So nice wooden ceilings and a nice sage green wall behind me.

00:03:24:15 – 00:03:52:11
Philippa White
Yeah, with a nice clock on your right hand side. Yep, yep, yep. For our listeners to be able to picture where you are. So I to say I’ve been so excited for this conversation. There was a lot of conversation at home and oh, I’m so excited to talk to Elliot and for our listeners. I mean, Elliot and I go way, way back generations back because my dad, his parents were very close with your grandparents.

00:03:53:04 – 00:04:15:12
Philippa White
So my grandparents are very close with your grandparents. So my father grew up like his family was in South Africa and I think at the time, maybe even in Zimbabwe. And so he was at boarding school and then he went to medical school in London and he spent time at Molly and Ron’s like on the holidays when he couldn’t go home to Africa, Kristie only went home once a year.

00:04:15:12 – 00:04:33:17
Philippa White
They kind of became his, almost like his parents, I think. And so he became really close with your mum. He became an anesthetist because of Ron. Ron had a huge influence on many people and my dad was one of them. And so we I mean, there’s pictures of us at a pub that I have seen. I have no idea where this picture is.

00:04:33:17 – 00:05:01:01
Philippa White
We’re at some pub and I think you’re two and I’m, I don’t know, seven or something like that. Yes. I mean, it goes way back, but I remember more clearly us meeting at 54 for a dinner, I think 54 Grove Park, which is the famous house at 54 Grove Park. And then I it went from there. I lived at your house for a while when I was setting up buy you I think after universe City worked at Ty for a while, which was amazing.

00:05:01:01 – 00:05:16:23
Philippa White
You know, our memories go way, way back. Ren, your daughter is obviously my goddaughter and my daughter is your goddaughter. So I’m just curious, as we kick off this podcast, what, what is a memory that you have of just this history?

00:05:17:07 – 00:05:39:19
Eliot Postma
So, I mean, you’re right that it’s a long history. So for me, like what I was most present in my mind was the first day that you came to our house in London and this very tall, smart, confident Canadian talking about how you were going to sort of try and change the world through communications. And it was all just like this.

00:05:39:19 – 00:05:56:06
Eliot Postma
Well, there are a lot of people there and it was like a bit of a whirlwind dinner. I very vividly remember it and remember you like talking with such passion about what you wanted to do, and actually was probably a big part of why I spent a little bit of time working in advertising at all, work in communications, really?

00:05:56:06 – 00:06:20:14
Eliot Postma
Yeah. I was very intrigued. I was maybe very intrigued by it. And that power of, you know, fundamentally at its core, I think I knew I didn’t want to wait, did I knew I didn’t want a career in in the communications industry. But at its core, like the skill of being able to persuade large numbers of people to change their behaviors because it’s something that you’re saying is like super powerful, like really, really powerful in whatever you do.

00:06:20:24 – 00:06:32:04
Eliot Postma
And I know I learned I learned a huge amount from it. And I take it into what I do now in certain ways. So it was a super interesting experience for me. So yeah, for dinner.

00:06:32:18 – 00:06:49:15
Philippa White
Yeah, absolutely. Hopefully. And then you did and then you just couldn’t get rid of me. I remember your sort of the I guess you were doing architecture, I guess you were studying architecture. Yeah. And I just will never forget the chicken bones.

00:06:49:22 – 00:07:07:21
Eliot Postma
That’s the chicken bones. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I did like making weird models, that’s for sure. I think I like the making side of it. My studies was the bit that I really enjoyed, and so any opportunity to experiment of making an architectural model out of the weirdest possible material was something that I jumped at the chance at.

00:07:07:21 – 00:07:21:01
Eliot Postma
And I think the weirdest one was my I think I must have eaten. I didn’t know how many roast chickens I had to eat to harvest these these carcasses to create this model out of fried chicken bones.

00:07:21:01 – 00:07:36:18
Philippa White
But it was quite extraordinary. I will never forget it. Yeah. Yeah. So perhaps you can tell our listeners just a little bit about you and your background before Heatherwick. So, I mean, you’ve touched on it now, but I think just helping people put just you in perspective.

00:07:37:00 – 00:08:06:08
Eliot Postma
Yeah. So I was born and bred in London growing up in that sort of wonderful creative, weird household that my parents made. I mean, you staying there wasn’t like a that wasn’t an odd thing. We always had a weird and wonderful lodger staying in our spare room, which was like a very formative part of my growing up, like this influence of all of these different people just moving through our life all the time, like, I think my mum was a very good mother to many people.

00:08:06:15 – 00:08:30:08
Eliot Postma
I was very, very welcoming and in creating that atmosphere in our house. And then I guess my design journey started pretty early. I can still remember probably age like seven being really excited about Wednesdays because Wednesday was the day. It’s weird, isn’t it? Wednesday afternoon was the day that I had by even a seven. We had like a black design class and it was basically an opportunity.

00:08:30:08 – 00:08:57:21
Eliot Postma
We had like a tiny little workshop in my school where they let us use saws and drills and have some sense of designing something and then trying to make it. And it was that getting to try and make stuff that lit like some creative spark in me that never left really. And that continued throughout my schooling where, you know, it was the workshops at the schools that I was at with the places that I ended up spending kind of extracurricular time like lunchtimes.

00:08:57:21 – 00:09:11:08
Eliot Postma
And, and I guess that interest just carried on going and I ended up studying architecture as my undergrad, and then curiosity led me into a few different things. I worked as a photographer for a couple of years and started a photographic company.

00:09:11:14 – 00:09:16:00
Philippa White
With and with our with our mutual friend Red George.

00:09:16:04 – 00:09:38:07
Eliot Postma
Yeah, yeah. And so I did that for a couple of years and then I worked in advertising that was that was just prior to that was when we met and sort of got that interest in the idea of the power of communications and how could I learn something from that. And so I spent a couple of years working in an ad agency in London and had a great time and knew that I needed to leave.

00:09:38:07 – 00:09:55:10
Eliot Postma
Otherwise we’d probably end up that longer than I had wanted and that itch of getting back into the design world with it. Nevertheless, like I knew that that was I was going to return to it, but I guess I wanted some broader experiences before then. And I worked with you on TIE whilst I was studying my masters. Yeah.

00:09:55:10 – 00:10:16:22
Eliot Postma
Then I did my masters at the Royal College of Art and worked a little bit as an architect in between. And then I graduated and was pretty focused on the type of place I wanted to go and actually was pretty focused on the studio where I’ve ended up. And so I’ve now been working where I am now at Heatherwick studio for 13, 14 years and having a back.

00:10:17:07 – 00:10:39:10
Philippa White
Yeah, that’s incredible. And it’s so amazing because I followed that journey and it really has. I mean, this was your I this is my goal. Like, I really mean, isn’t it amazing that you were able to get there because for for people who don’t know, maybe you can tell people just a little bit about Heatherwick and and Thomas Heatherwick, who’s obviously the founder, just putting Heatherwick into perspective.

00:10:39:10 – 00:10:40:12
Philippa White
So what is Heatherwick?

00:10:40:12 – 00:11:10:12
Eliot Postma
Yeah, so Heatherwick studio is a design studio based at King’s Cross, founded 28 years ago, so by Thomas Heatherwick. And we’re now a group of, gosh, nearly 280, 290 designers. And I guess what brings us together is a shared passion for trying to make placings or buildings or things that are, you know, radically more joyful, engaging and fundamentally human.

00:11:10:13 – 00:11:32:07
Eliot Postma
Our design process is led by the human experience first and whatever design project that that might be. That’s kind of like the the genesis of where we start our design process from. And so we focus on public projects in cities around the world that try and achieve that goal and try and connect with people on, on some sort of emotional level.

00:11:32:20 – 00:11:56:09
Eliot Postma
And so where we sort of have a specific design discipline, we’re known for working across like a really broad range of things. And we celebrate that. And so that’s been things from furniture to we did the Olympic cauldron at the 2012 London Olympics. Wow. To the, you know, sort of the reinvention of the famous Red Bus in London, the Routemaster bus.

00:11:56:09 – 00:12:20:13
Eliot Postma
We designed the contemporary version of that. And then goes on to bigger things, bigger pieces of public realm of cities. So we finished a new park for New York, which is a floating called Little Island that sort of floats in the Hudson just off Manhattan and then up. So architectural projects from headquarters for Google to master planning, you know, a new airport for Singapore.

00:12:20:16 – 00:12:42:14
Eliot Postma
So we sort of stretch across all these different scales. And that’s why I absolutely love about about being in the studio and being here for 13 years. And I’m a design partner and then also a group leader. So that’s five group is at the studio that we’re essentially responsible for helping that design direction of 6 to 12 different projects at once.

00:12:43:00 – 00:12:59:13
Eliot Postma
And that’s when I’ve got to work on this wonderful range of things from a about in France to now, I spent almost a decade working with Google on different projects to like an opera house in, in Hainan and yeah it’s been a wild ride.

00:12:59:22 – 00:13:32:13
Philippa White
Amazing. I know that the environment is very, very important to you. Sustainability is very important to you. And you obviously mentioned that the core of Heatherwick projects are rooted in humanity. And you posted recently, I think it was you I think it was the studio actually that posted around the time of the COP 27 and just talking about how fundamental changes are required to cut carbon emissions and construction is currently responsible for 39% of the global total.

00:13:33:05 – 00:13:55:19
Philippa White
And according to the World Green Building Council, the energy used to heat, cool and light buildings accounts for 28% of that figure. Where are the buildings turning this around? You know, the large ones and the small ones, you know who’s behind it. And how can we learn from this progress being made and what does this look like? And and how is Heatherwick leading the way from this point of view?

00:13:55:19 – 00:14:10:22
Philippa White
Because it’s it’s a big issue. And you’re obviously sought after for these innovative solutions and these beautiful projects, but also taking into consideration innovative ways and contemporary ways of doing things. So I just wonder if you can talk a little.

00:14:10:22 – 00:14:39:24
Eliot Postma
Bit about that from so. Well, first thing to say is, I mean, I think we all share this common challenge that the climate crisis has sort of presented to humanity. And it’s really sobering, you know, working essentially. I work as part of the construction industry and there’s so much talk about and people on a personal level feel rightly, they’re very focused on, for example, aviation, like the impact of flying around the world.

00:14:39:24 – 00:15:01:18
Eliot Postma
And people make personal choices about maybe doing that less or in some cases not at all because of concerns around their own carbon footprint. So it is interesting that aviation is, you know, accounts for like 2% of global emissions and the construction industry of which I’m a contributor, is is worth a huge amount in total in its totality.

00:15:01:18 – 00:15:19:22
Eliot Postma
So when you look at the lifecycle of buildings, then up to like 38% of that, yet people probably don’t put the same. I don’t put the same critical lens on I don’t know if you put it back down to the individual, let’s say building extension to their house or knocking a part of their house down and building a new.

00:15:20:07 – 00:15:30:23
Eliot Postma
There isn’t the same language socially around what that might mean in terms of carbon and the impact that that has on on the planet. And it’s, you know a super so.

00:15:30:23 – 00:15:33:01
Philippa White
The interesting is it’s really interesting.

00:15:33:08 – 00:15:51:07
Eliot Postma
There’s 1 billion I’m going to try and make this is like an understandable metric that is 1 billion square feet of buildings is demolished each year. So that’s the size of Washington, DC. It’s just like I’d knocked down every single year. And, you know, we’re set to double the amount of buildings on the planet in the next 40 years.

00:15:51:16 – 00:16:08:16
Eliot Postma
That’s like building a New York every month for 40 years, but just to try and comprehend the amount of construction that’s going to be happening. But for us, the bit that is that is really sad is the amount of demolition that goes on. So you’ve got to build all this new stuff. You’re just demolishing so much stuff that exists.

00:16:08:24 – 00:16:28:12
Eliot Postma
Yeah. And the average lifespan of a commercial building in the UK is 40 years, so a new commercial building in the UK gets knocked down after I’m about to be knocked down. If I was a building, if I was an office building in the UK like Iceland. But for me it’s this is it, we’re finished. And fundamentally that’s not good enough.

00:16:28:19 – 00:17:01:21
Eliot Postma
That’s not we can’t be doing this and we feel that where we’re coming from as a studio is that frankly, there’s been a bit of a crisis over the last eight years in the way that the built environment has been treated. And there’s lots of complicated reasons as to why. But if you look at the postwar boom of building in the fifties and sixties was collided with a modernizing movement in architecture that essentially for good or bad, but it has resulted in some modern places in cities.

00:17:01:21 – 00:17:25:14
Eliot Postma
The fundamental, they feel pretty soulless. They’ve got a flatter code, less human and a bit soulless. And it’s no I think it’s pretty undeniable when people travel around the world, the parts of the world that they want to go and see in cities, all the old bits, like it’s pretty rare that people want to go and see the new stuff and so from our point of view, we that’s painful.

00:17:25:14 – 00:17:53:00
Eliot Postma
And we want you want that same level of interest and human connection to the contemporary builds environment that we had historically. And, you know, you could put that down to craftsmanship, to complexity, to the detail that historically was put into the built environment. The over time for economic factors but also for principles like modern movement factors, has been removed.

00:17:53:00 – 00:18:12:17
Eliot Postma
So it’s an architectural phrase, but the, you know, the modern movement, this idea that form follows function. So the form of a building should always follow the the function of it. And the idea that a level of ornamentation is maybe a is a crime. They were kind of two phases, the phrases that came out of the modern movement.

00:18:12:22 – 00:18:45:08
Eliot Postma
But something has been lost in the built environment as a result, in the generality of the built environment, the 99%. And fundamentally that’s that we really believe emotion is a function it’s not spoken about, but the emotion of the human is a function of the built environment that we need to be tuned into and we need to be building to that emotion for the result that then people will care about the things, to connect with them, to love them, they’ll keep them and adapt them.

00:18:45:15 – 00:19:10:08
Eliot Postma
They’ll be cherished and they’ll last. We need to be thinking about 100 a thousand year buildings in 40 year buildings. And so the the lens that we look at the climate crisis through and the role that we play from an architectural perspective is how do we build things that connect with people that they would love, cherish and adapt so that they’ll still be there in a thousand years time?

00:19:10:08 – 00:19:17:13
Eliot Postma
I mean, however many years time, a hell of a lot more than 41 or two years. We just can’t keep going like this.

00:19:17:14 – 00:19:22:08
Philippa White
Can you give us an example, an example of of that human connection?

00:19:22:11 – 00:19:47:07
Eliot Postma
I mean, so you grew up in Canada. You spent a lot of time in London. You spent enough time you spent enough time walking around some of the new bits, the new bits of London. Yeah. If you would just to compare the, let’s say the the generality, the 99% of contemporary or modern housing in London vast is where the vast majority of people in London aspire to live, which is within a Victorian terrace.

00:19:47:07 – 00:20:17:11
Eliot Postma
There is a completely different level of attention to detail, feeling of craftsmanship, caring, the materiality, warmth and the materiality and and a tuning into the scale of the human. So that when you’re walking up to a Victorian terrace, there’s some sort of relief, an archway over something, the scale of a door, the door itself is broken down in scale into different elements, and that’s responding to the complexity that you need as a human as you walk through an experience the world.

00:20:17:15 – 00:20:41:13
Eliot Postma
Unfortunately, there are a lot of modern developments being built that just do not have that level of interest or complexity in them. And they’re that boring, that balance to the eye. They give you nothing. It’s interesting. Now, science is starting to catch up with how some of these environments that we’re creating are bad for your health. It’s it’s stressful for you to be in and around these environments.

00:20:41:15 – 00:20:58:17
Eliot Postma
If you think about the complexity of nature, what we used to like, that visual noise, complexity, richness that we on in our DNA seem like programed to be surrounded by. We are really struggling to replicate that in the modern world.

00:20:58:24 – 00:21:00:02
Philippa White
Yeah, it’s so.

00:21:00:02 – 00:21:13:06
Eliot Postma
Interesting and we did a better job of that in the past and we’re not talking about replicating the past at all. We’ve got to find our contemporary way of still tuning in to those really human emotional needs.

00:21:13:16 – 00:21:22:10
Philippa White
So just I mean, there’s two things that I just want to comment on, but one, why do you think that is and is it cost related?

00:21:22:17 – 00:22:04:05
Eliot Postma
It’s really complicated. It’s really complicated. Yes, of course. I think modernism collided with a building boom that needed to be quicker, cheaper, more efficient than ever before. It also did collide with the sentiment of these ideas of how should be like these modernist ideals, of how the world should be. And I think we’re learning now about, although that came with some huge leaps forward in technological advancements of construction technology and efficiencies and things, it also came with this missing dimension and we’re starting to unpick now the pitfalls of that that we’ve been left with.

00:22:05:07 – 00:22:28:01
Philippa White
And it’s really interesting because before my daughter a year ago, she’s going to a new school this next year. And so the last few months we’ve been very busy looking at different schools. And of course, when it comes to schools, there’s so many different things that you need to consider. As we all know, distance education, how they teach, what you know, what’s the method of the teaching.

00:22:28:13 – 00:22:51:18
Philippa White
But it was fascinating because of course, all of that we’re looking at and know. But I went to a few different schools and the experience within the schools. That was a huge factor for me from an architecture point of view. Now I am not an architect and I literally don’t really know anything about it other than how I feel when I’m in a space.

00:22:51:19 – 00:23:09:23
Philippa White
Now, this will give you a heart attack because just knowing you so well, one of these schools, because it’s so hot where we are, so being school currently, you would love it from an architectural point of view. It’s wonderful. So it’s floor to ceiling windows, but obviously it’s really, really hot. So how do you decrease the amount of heat that’s coming in?

00:23:09:23 – 00:23:27:20
Philippa White
Well, they’ve got these window plant things. So basically it’s all it’s like a wall of green. So it’s all these plants coming up that decreases the amount of sun that comes streaming in. But also it’s so green. So the extreme is, even though she did a quite concrete part of town, there’s so much green and it’s really, really, really nice.

00:23:27:22 – 00:23:48:22
Philippa White
So anyway, so I love that and that’s what really got me excited about the school that she is at one of the things. But then we were needing to move her, so we went to the school that it’s so insane. So it’s basically all concrete and they’ve got these big windows. So to decrease the amount of sun that comes in to because it’s hot, it’s really hot, it’s 35 degrees.

00:23:49:07 – 00:24:17:17
Philippa White
They have black plastic sticky tape on the windows. That’s all peeling off on the corners and on the inside of the building. It’s all concrete and it’s it’s so institutional. It’s like a jail. You know, I went in there now the schooling is supposed to be is amazing. The teachers are supposed to be absolutely fantastic. But I look at that place and I thought, I can’t have BA in that for a full day every single day for the next however long to learn.

00:24:18:00 – 00:24:37:20
Philippa White
Because one, you need sun. Two, you need to have a space that you want to learn in and that is not it. And it was really amazing because then we went to another school. Now the price of the school is the same because it’s all here, it’s private. So you know, the cost is the same. But we looked at it and her dad was saying, Oh my God, who’s the architect of this school?

00:24:37:20 – 00:25:00:14
Philippa White
Who who’s the architect? They said, Oh, it’s Andrea, blah, blah, blah. You know, immediately you could see that it was a project. It was thought about, you know, there’s even a fountain in one place. And they said, Yeah, it’s amazing how the children are drawn to that particular space because it’s a calming sound of having the waterfall. There’s windows, there’s trees, and even just the way that it’s created the space and how it moves and how the people use the space.

00:25:00:14 – 00:25:23:04
Philippa White
And I thought, you know, it’s so crazy because all of these schools have the same amount of money. So it’s not money in this case. It’s actually understanding almost the science behind it, I think, and understanding the science behind the importance of light, the importance of how you use a space, and therefore how that then impacts people’s ability to learn, be happy, their mood.

00:25:23:04 – 00:25:30:21
Philippa White
We know that ADHD is increasing for so many reasons in society. We need to we need to find opportunities to sort of calm people down. So anyway, I was just.

00:25:31:11 – 00:25:53:00
Eliot Postma
So into I mean, that’s so interesting. And I for one thing is you said you’re not an architect, you’re not an expert, but actually you are. There are certain things we are not experts in and we know nothing about, but we all, as the general public, actually have a pretty good understanding and appreciation for the built environment. We all live in it all of our lives.

00:25:53:00 – 00:26:12:13
Eliot Postma
So you knew what worked for you and what didn’t your in your nature, you had a human reaction to those two very different human reaction to those two different spaces. And you knew which one was working and which one wasn’t and which one you wanted to be educated in, which one you didn’t. So there is an understanding and a knowledge that had nothing to do with training.

00:26:12:17 – 00:26:37:10
Eliot Postma
It’s just to do with us as people and as humans and what like fundamental, like basic needs are. Yeah. And it makes me think about one project that was a really interesting experience for us. I mean, we’re desperate to try and design and this is very lofty ambitions, but to design a hospital one day, because if there’s ever an environment that needs a humanizing lens, put over it again.

00:26:37:20 – 00:27:15:18
Eliot Postma
It is, you know, these very clinical environments that are created within hospitals. Again, awful, very good, like sanitary, practical reasons. But some of the best science of understanding what our human needs are is based around recovery and based around how we understanding how patients react to different environments like the difference when they’ve got a view of greenery out the window versus looking into a concrete courtyard, whether they can have control of opening the window themselves or whether it’s like a sealed, completely artificially ventilated room, or whether they do have direct sunlight or if they’re on the north side of the building, always in shadow.

00:27:16:01 – 00:27:46:14
Eliot Postma
Like those things, there’s now science backing up. Recovery rates improve when you’re in a distressed environment. And it absolutely applies to education, absolutely applies to the workplace, absolutely applies the hub. It applies to everywhere. And so we got to design a few years ago as it’s amazing charity called Maggie’s, which is basically a cancer research charity that designs and delivers spaces next to or within hospital grounds that is purely there for non-clinical treatment.

00:27:46:14 – 00:28:07:19
Eliot Postma
So the psychological treatment of being diagnosed with cancer. And so they’re environments that are purely set up for talking or connecting with other people that might be going through the same thing as you. So the design process around this was was really interesting. We’ve given this site that was like on a it was like the last bit of greenery in Leeds General Hospital in the north of England.

00:28:08:00 – 00:28:26:07
Eliot Postma
There’s like this very steep green slope and like right next to that massive car park and it’s this enormous concrete jungle around Leeds Hospital. And it was like this little bit of grass there, like, can you put a monkey center there? Got rid of like getting rid of the last bit of grass in this entire. But that’s it.

00:28:26:07 – 00:28:46:08
Eliot Postma
It was terrible and it was really steep and it was sitting right next to compost. No. Okay. Now let’s maybe we can start from the place of one. You want to be providing us a feeling of shelter and like safety and kind of bringing people into a residential like home like environment where they really feel calm and reassured.

00:28:46:23 – 00:29:12:18
Eliot Postma
But the other way was like, why can’t we dramatically amplify the natural environment on this tiny little piece of the site? And so that was kind of what was in our mind. Just just go all in on that. And that meant like the materiality of the building, but principally also genuinely bringing well, I think in the end it was 400% more biodiversity onto the site than was there before we started, despite the fact we put a building on it.

00:29:13:03 – 00:29:33:21
Eliot Postma
So the building was made up of these four different enclosed rooms that interconnect each one is basically an enormous elevated garden, and underneath the garden is sort of the that room, and they interconnect with each other with sort of a kitchen in the middle. But it’s this amazing, like flourishing.

00:29:34:06 – 00:29:35:07
Philippa White
Wow. Almost looks.

00:29:35:07 – 00:30:05:10
Eliot Postma
Beautiful. Bountiful garden in the middle of this concrete hospital. And then you go into it and the building is made from what’s called mass timber. So it’s an entirely timber structure. So the structural ribs are all from this, this prefabricated timber. Then all of the wall finishes are like a natural line render. It’s now painted surfaces, the tables are made out of cork and it’s just, you know, you get immersed in this natural environment, like all the windows looking out.

00:30:05:10 – 00:30:38:05
Eliot Postma
You look out over these gardens that have been created and on the inside, these natural materials that we know that there is now science backing up, that they really help with levels of stress, with levels to recovery and just feeling calm in that space. So that was a really interesting experience for us. Plus getting to use using natural materials that have sequestered carbon and lock them into a building for hopefully the next few hundred years is a hell of a lot better than a bunch of concrete or steel that has emissions associated with it.

00:30:38:11 – 00:30:42:03
Eliot Postma
Helping the job of sequestering carbon and then using that as a construction material.

00:30:42:13 – 00:31:02:09
Philippa White
Yeah. Are there any projects that you can? I mean, Heather makes a huge name for anyone who works in the architecture space. I mean, Heatherwick is a it’s a it’s an incredible architecture firm. I can imagine you’re very sought after, but are there any projects that you wouldn’t take for reasons that don’t fit your values?

00:31:02:13 – 00:31:29:13
Eliot Postma
Absolutely. I mean, the most obvious example is private homes. You know, we’re not we we’re not interested in specific fully private projects. We’re interested in impacting the public realm within predominantly cities, but not exclusively, but predominantly within cities. We want to try and help improve the environment of cities around the world. And so for us, that doesn’t mean that the project itself, it doesn’t mean that everyone has to have access to the inside of a building.

00:31:29:13 – 00:31:52:04
Eliot Postma
But where the buildings are, we ideally want them to have a meaningful impact on the public space around and offer something to give something hopefully generously back to the public realm around house. So that’s a pretty firm. You know, we we’ve never done a private residence in a gated community or an amazing individuals house on the top of a mountain, or that doesn’t interest us.

00:31:52:04 – 00:32:08:08
Eliot Postma
That’s not what it’s not what we want to try and change it ultimately. But even something like working with Google, of course, the inside of those buildings aren’t really publicly accessible, but they have a very significant impact on the public realm with which they sit. Yeah.

00:32:08:08 – 00:32:29:18
Philippa White
Can you talk about because I think the reason why I even knew this was something important to Heatherwick because as close as we are, I’m learning so much about your work and everything, just even from this conversation. So from a, from Bay Views, architectural point of view, can you talk just about, about the desire from a sustainability point of view?

00:32:29:19 – 00:32:48:23
Eliot Postma
For sure. So in a way, there’s like two big crises going on within the climate crisis. So COP15 is on right now, which is like the biodiverse city version. So I’m glad I mentioned Maggie’s because in a way that was playing into a theme that we really believe in, too. And I’m going to want to thank you as a as a link to this.

00:32:48:23 – 00:33:13:08
Eliot Postma
But so something we really believe in and why we took that thread on the Maggie’s Center was we believe in the need for us to be rebirthing our cities in a way like we’re becoming an increasingly urbanized species that’s getting divorced from the natural world. And as there’s absolutely a climate crisis going on, but there’s also a biodiversity crisis going on that isn’t spoken about to the same degree.

00:33:13:24 – 00:33:44:19
Eliot Postma
And there is a need. And I think architects and designers can play a role in this, of bringing the natural world back into our cities. And Maggie’s was a good example of that, really being focused on increasing the biodiversity of a specific site. And that’s something that we’ve tried to do across many, many of our projects. And it’s also a way of bringing a richness and complexity to the natural world has that can be quite hard to achieve in architecture, but bringing it in to your building design.

00:33:45:11 – 00:34:09:06
Eliot Postma
So Bayview is an example that’s while it was doing that within its landscape. The building itself was more of a really interesting exercise of like really thinking about the true performance engineering metrics of the building and having like a really wholehearted approach to how that building from the ground up can be functioning. It’s the most sustainable like ecosystem that it could.

00:34:09:10 – 00:34:37:01
Eliot Postma
And so I mean that projects I’ve been working with Google and on that, I mean, you know how long like really ten years has been the most amazing journey we got to at the outset. We got to engage with and work with the leaders like the founders of Google and actually got to know they are undoubtedly some of the most provocative, innovative thinkers on the planet, really making some massive changes to the way that we all live.

00:34:37:01 – 00:34:58:16
Eliot Postma
And so it was fascinating to get to work with them on a challenge like what the future of workplace might be at a time that they had, they’d never built a building for themselves that inhabited loads of existing buildings and were brilliant. It like they were helped pave the way of a more collaborative, joyful, fun, connected workplace. But they never built a building and they never built a phone.

00:34:58:16 – 00:35:18:08
Eliot Postma
They’ve never made a laptop, they hadn’t done anything physical when we started working with them. So it was an interesting challenge of talking with them about how they want to manifest in the world. And one of our very first visits out to California, Silicon Valley, we got taken around a Nasser airfield that they’ve got lease on called the Moffett Airfield, which is right next to Beijing.

00:35:18:08 – 00:35:37:24
Eliot Postma
It’s actually the next door site. And on it are these World War Two blimp hangars. These airship kind of like enormous Zeppelin blimps used to park in this huge steel structure. We’re talking, like, must be like 100 feet, 30 meters tall, like enormous, incredible long span space. And we walked in and we were just like, Yeah, well, this is it.

00:35:38:00 – 00:35:53:18
Eliot Postma
This is like, this is the space that they need something like this. This is a company that we need to try and design a building for the by the time the building is finished, we have no idea what that company is going to be doing. You know, they might be focused on autonomous vehicles. They might be thinking about loon balloons.

00:35:53:18 – 00:36:07:12
Eliot Postma
They might have completely rethought the way that they they want to work or collaborate with one another. How do we create a building that’s going to be fit for purpose for an organization like this? When the design and construction process is so long, it’s like the whole.

00:36:07:12 – 00:36:09:19
Philippa White
Crazy because it’s true.

00:36:09:19 – 00:36:39:16
Eliot Postma
I had only and we just dove in with these guys and we’ve completely open minded about the provocations they were giving about workplace, and they were completely open minded about the provocations we were going back, giving back. And so this idea of providing a contemporary hangout for them that provided that idea of like a really flexible platform that could change over time and in 100 years if they’re doing something totally different, this building can still stand and provide a different type of environment for them.

00:36:39:19 – 00:37:04:11
Eliot Postma
And so the building is essentially it’s essentially like a very large tent structure because a tent structure like a tensile structure, like a tent is the most efficient way is the way of using the least material to build a very long spanning closure. And so it’s essentially this big tent, but then underneath is this much more flexible human scale, lighter weight, what we called furniture.

00:37:04:11 – 00:37:39:24
Eliot Postma
But it was like very large furniture. That was where the work happened with the idea that that could change over time, but the primary structure would stay. So that was kind of the genesis of the project. And then so it’s a workspace, it’s just two levels. And the other problem we were trying to solve for was they wanted up to 3000 people working together on one floor plate and typically within a really large building you get an undemocratic access to daylight where you get the senior people to sit in offices up against the windows and then you get everybody else doing the work by the core in the dark spot.

00:37:40:17 – 00:38:10:20
Eliot Postma
And so we were interested in trying to create an enormous connected plate that had a uniform access to daylight across the entire thing. And so the tenant is then cut into these like slits that create a clear story windows across the entire enclosure. So there’s like a perfectly uniform distribution of daylight across the entire interior space and everyone works in the best space in the building, like the desks are all on the top level under this amazing canopy, enjoying this perfect access to daylight.

00:38:10:20 – 00:38:41:18
Eliot Postma
And then all the other stuff meeting rooms, gyms, cafes, micro kitchens is all underneath the desks. On that other level, it’s almost this little town. The grounds that people can walk around and then they pop up through these courtyards to the desks above. But what was really lovely was, I mean, everything was great and exciting, but it was really nice to be working with a client that just was totally up for sign to wholeheartedly embrace like the sustainability engineering solution into the design of the building.

00:38:41:18 – 00:39:07:04
Eliot Postma
Like absolutely stitch those things together. No longer was it make the building sustainable by sticking some really ugly blue solar panels facing south on the roof. And so that was kind of the simplest way to describe it. It was manifest in like three ways. So the tent itself, the entire thing is made up of a bespoke solar panel that we created, which looks like that we called it Dragon Scale.

00:39:07:04 – 00:39:14:11
Eliot Postma
It’s like these really big solar cells that cover every single square surface.

00:39:14:14 – 00:39:15:18
Philippa White
Because you would never know that.

00:39:16:08 – 00:39:36:12
Eliot Postma
No. And it looks like an architectural finish. And that’s the idea is that we were wanting to prove out that it can be providing 40% of the energy that the building needs and it can be a really beautiful surface. You don’t have to compromise for it to be like working super hard. And then that followed through so that the canopy was doing that.

00:39:36:12 – 00:39:59:13
Eliot Postma
But it was also because they wanted 3000 people all connected. It meant it was the large floor plate that we wanted that area to be catching as much rainwater as it possibly could. California is constantly in drought, and so it’s one of the very few buildings in California that’s net water positive. That big canopy catches every drop of rain that hits it, that then feeds into these retention ponds that sit in the landscape.

00:39:59:23 – 00:40:25:02
Eliot Postma
And so it also became a biodiverse city like exercise it then rewilding and reworking this part of the bay that could bring back some of the native species that we’re in, the wetlands that were originally but is also a vessel was holding the retained water when it does bring from the canopy and then you go down to like the foundations and we’re having to drive these big pile foundations into the ground to support the columns of this building.

00:40:25:05 – 00:40:52:11
Eliot Postma
And it’s like, well, how do we get them working harder? And it was, well, let’s turn each of those piles into parts of I think is North America’s biggest geothermal, geothermal project. So each pile is using the heat that’s buried in the earth or in fact, in California’s the cooling that’s buried within the. Yeah. So then naturally cool the building without having to use truckloads of water and cooling towers, which is typical in air conditioning systems and buildings around the world.

00:40:52:15 – 00:41:07:22
Eliot Postma
I mean, there’s lots more examples, but it was this idea of thinking about every building component of how it could work on multiple levels. Yeah. And essentially like it was about energy from the earth, energy from the sun, harvesting the rain. It was like as simple as that.

00:41:08:06 – 00:41:10:11
Philippa White
But using how amazing.

00:41:10:16 – 00:41:26:21
Eliot Postma
And it was. Yeah, I think a month ago we got it got certified as the world’s biggest LEED platinum, which is a type of metric that’s used to essentially assess how sustainably a building is performing. And it just got certified as the biggest.

00:41:27:00 – 00:41:27:14
Philippa White
Regulation.

00:41:27:23 – 00:41:28:24
Eliot Postma
For building in the world.

00:41:28:24 – 00:41:31:06
Philippa White
Which is pretty regulation that is amazing.

00:41:31:14 – 00:41:32:06
Eliot Postma
Pretty amazing.

00:41:32:10 – 00:41:52:14
Philippa White
I mean, we are coming to the end of the podcast, but I just wonder what is the vision of Heatherwick for the future in this area just as a group? Is this the direction that you see Heatherwick going in? Is it something that obviously gets you guys all really excited and you hope that more and more people will look for you for these types of initiatives?

00:41:52:18 – 00:42:21:18
Eliot Postma
I mean, absolutely. But I think the thing our core, like looking now to the next 20 years of the studio is where we really are sort of circling around this idea of promoting the need of seeing the built environment as reconnecting the built environment with the human emotion, and that our projects, hopefully at their best, can be examples of how that can be done, we hope.

00:42:22:11 – 00:42:47:19
Eliot Postma
But more important is to be trying to have that conversation with as many people as possible, other people to feel that the public, to feel empowered, to say, this isn’t good enough. We need to be doing things differently and to hopefully that be some sort of broader change in the way that lots of people are thinking about the world around us to have the maximum possible impact and hopefully our projects are a tiny little part of that.

00:42:47:19 – 00:43:01:20
Eliot Postma
In the end. And that’s all wrapped up in sustainability. Sustainability and the climate crisis is just a part of that same concern impact that we want to have as a as a studio. Not really. Is hopefully what’s driving us for the next 20 years.

00:43:02:02 – 00:43:06:21
Philippa White
Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you’d like to tell our listeners?

00:43:06:22 – 00:43:30:01
Eliot Postma
I mean, I could talk to you for another hour about many, many more projects. It’s really nice, actually, to have the opportunity just to talk these things back. I’m intrigued to hear it back. Everything that we’re doing on that human focus around the built environment, it totally resonates with what you’re all about and what you all had to change in your way in the world.

00:43:30:14 – 00:43:42:05
Eliot Postma
And so it’s such a nice opportunity, despite the fact that we do get to spend time together sporadic KI Throughout the year. It’s very rare that you get to sit and have an hour long conversation about.

00:43:42:14 – 00:44:04:02
Philippa White
Something that’s totally right. It’s so nice. And so for me it’s really special. I, as I mentioned before we started recording, I love this because it is an opportunity for me to really understand what really close people in my life are doing. Because you don’t if you’re sitting around having a glass of wine, that’s all you’re talking about the kids and, you know, different things in our lives.

00:44:04:02 – 00:44:06:12
Philippa White
But digging deep into work and it’s hard to do.

00:44:06:12 – 00:44:36:06
Eliot Postma
That, there is a quote that host having kids rattles around in my head and it’s life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. And I found that having kids, they are like the world’s true experts and living in the present. Yeah. And as much as I spend my time, we’ve spent this our talking a lot about the future in a way, and like our concerns and worries and hopes for for the future, I feel it’s very personal to me.

00:44:36:06 – 00:44:59:18
Eliot Postma
Like I am constantly trying to check myself to also be present and living in the experience that I’m having now. And the kids have been amazing to remind me of that because they are so good at it. That’s all they can s all they know and it’s all they can do. And it’s almost like I almost don’t want them to grow up and get the baggage of stuff that you have to plan for in the future.

00:44:59:24 – 00:45:14:01
Philippa White
That’s really lovely. Well, let’s leave it on that. Thank you for your time and fitting it into your busy, busy life. Well, lots of love. Love to the family. And we will speak very soon. Thank you for joining us.

00:45:14:04 – 00:45:19:06
Eliot Postma
Likewise. Thank you.

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