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​British designer Thomas Heatherwick's brand of provocation

In Thomas Heatherwick's work, from building projects across the globe to household furniture, you won't find a signature style
A British designer's innovative visions 05:04

We like to think that good architecture is timeless. But the man Anthony Mason introduces us to says, think again:

In Thomas Heatherwick's work -- his redesign of London's classic double-decker bus, the cauldron he created for the London Olympics, or the new Google headquarters in California -- you won't find a signature style.

But the 46-year-old British designer says the world is growing too similar.

"There's great benefits to globalization and things that are wonderful and fantastic," he said. "But it means you need to put very deliberate effort now into helping things have their own soulfulness."

"Similarity is your enemy?" asked Mason.

"Well, why do something if it already exists?" Heatherwick replied.

In 2015 the Wall Street Journal proclaimed him Design Innovator of the Year.

His provocative work was celebrated at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York last year.

Thomas Heatherwick's redesign of London's iconic red double-decker bus. Iwan Baan/Heatherwick Studio

In his London studio, where Heatherwick has also dreamed up a spinning chair ("We knew it could rock, but we hadn't really thought through that it could then go all the way 'round"), and a rolling bridge that curls up to let boats pass, he and his team of 180 architects, artists and designers are now about to make their mark in America -- redesigning the interiors of the Geffen Theatre at New York's Lincoln Center; and creating the Pier 55 Park, to be built on 280 pilings in the Hudson River.

So when did Heatherwick first become interested in design?

"When I was little I just was very tuned in to the functionality and aesthetics of things around me," he said.

His father (an educator and musician) and his mother (a jewelry designer) fed his fascination for ideas:

"I thought I wanted to be an inventor, but then discovered you couldn't study inventing!" he laughed. "And in Britain, you know, everyone's got the 'Chittty Chitty Bang Bang' mentality, which is that 'inventor' has the word 'mad' stuck at the beginning of it."

After graduating from the Royal College of Art, he launched his own studio in 1994. Six years ago he was commissioned to do the first redesign of the double-decker bus in half a century.

When asked if he was at all nervous about having to deal with something so iconic, Heatherwick said, "I felt a huge responsibility."

He added a door up front and a sweeping window to the back.

"This has to do lots of jobs," he explained. "And our role was to try to make something that would do all that, but also, I mean, you can see nothing compares to the front of a double-decker bus!"

Heatherwick's most celebrated design may be the British Pavilion he created for the Shanghai World Expo in 2010.

Rather than reflecting castles and queens and Sherlock Holmes, Heatherwick wanted to highlight London as one of the greenest cities in the world. "And that's where this idea, 'What if we built a seed cathedral?' And everyone's going, 'A seed cathedral? You mean like a nut shop?'"

So he implanted seeds in the ends of 60,000 acrylic rods: "And if you hold it to the light, you see the daylight would come down and illuminate."

The dandelion-shaped structure won first prize and drew eight million visitors.

His next marquee project is a garden bridge, a pedestrian walkway that will extend nearly 1,000 feet across the Thames River, with "hands" coming out of the base of the Thames holding up a garden.

A rendering of the Garden Bridge in London, connecting North and South London with a 1,000-foot-long green pedestrian walkway. Heatherwick Studio

Mason asked, "Do you feel like you're trying to show people something? Like, 'Hey, look, this is what we can do'?"

"Yes," Heatherwick replied. "There are a lot of forces against anything with any special-ness happening. So when something at all special happens, I feel very appreciative of it."

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