Nickel Plated Benches for Thomas Heatherwick

NiTEC have recently had the pleasure of nickel plating a number of benches for the English designer Thomas Heatherwick.

Known for his innovative designs and creative use of engineering and materials to produce public monuments and sculptures, Heatherwick was asked to design the Olympic Cauldron used at the London 2012 opening and closing ceremonies.

Famed for his adventurous and original use of manufacturing processes and materials across the disciplines of architecture, art and design, Thomas Heatherwick is also renowned for his innovative ideas at the forefront of manufacturing and design practice.

Thomas Heatherwick’s extruded benches began life in Heatherwick’s design and architecture studio when working on a project that involved manufacturing aluminium components through an industrial process called extrusion.

What is extrusion?

The process of extrusion involves squeezing heated metal through a shaped hole which is known as die. The heated metal produces straight aluminium lengths in this way, with a precisely shaped cross section.

However, extrusion is liable to produce very contorted shapes when the metal initially squeezes through the die. This is because the metal becomes snagged and warped as it struggles to fit. The form eventually straightens out and usually during this process; the contorted end is chopped off and melted back down.

However, Thomas Heatherwick considered the mutated sections to be more interesting by far than the straight parts, and set out to produce more warped lengths of extruded aluminium on a much larger scale.

The designer then wondered if it would be possible to use the extrusion process to create seating, much of which was needed at the time to furnish new airports and stations being built around the world. Heatherwick saw it as a simple but effective alternative to ordinary furniture that had to made up of several components and materials. These extruded seats could be made all in one go, with the legs and back of the seat formed all at once.

The Heatherwick studio hunted for a machine capable of making this dream a reality for more than 16 years, until they finally came across a new extrusion machine that had been built in the Far East. The machine was designed for use in the aerospace industry and had the capability of exerting ten thousand tonnes of pressure. The factory it came from could not actually guarantee the outcome of the experiment because the machine had never been used to its full capacity.

Nickel plating aluminium benches

Using this specialised die, Heatherwick and his studio staff made a series of aluminium benches with straight, extruded lengths, and contrasting raw, contorted ends. The sweeping parallel lines created through the extrusion process are contorted into random, gnarled endings and the arbitrary swirling forms of the bench are created through the initiation and termination of the extrusion process. NiTEC were asked to nickel plate the benches to provide a high quality surface that would be very resistant to wear. To view these benches, please click here to visit the Heatherwick studio website.

Heatherwick’s projects take the design process to its broadest reaches, from entire buildings to handbags, bridges to furniture, and always involve a radical approach to manufacturing processes and use of materials. Heatherwick is now working on more commercial products using this process to create components for architectural construction, facade design and mass produced seating ranges.

To find out more about our involvement in special projects, or to find out more about electroless nickel plating, please visit the NiTEC website, call our friendly team of staff on 0845 224 3571 email: info@nitec-enp.co.uk

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