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1998 January: Harvey Nichols Department Store by Heatherwick Studio (London, UK)

Harvey Nichols department store in the fashionable Knightsbridge district of London has a growing reputation for progressive, modern design. From elegant packaging to lively interiors (such as Julyan Wickham’s inventive remodelling of the fifth floor food hall and restaurant, AR July 1993), Harvey Nichols has shaken off the traditional conservative image of English department stores. The shop is also renowned for the wit and ingenuity of its window displays, which regularly enliven the busy surroundings.

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Here, however, conventional window dressing has evolved into a curious and arresting hybrid of sculpture and architecture. Designed by sculptor Thomas Heatherwick to draw attention to Harvey Nichols’ participation in recent London Fashion Week, the extraordinary installation rises up through the proscenium arch of the shop windows and writhes its way along the main frontage in an overwhelming mass of curiously angular, ersatz Cubist tentacles.

The traffic-stopping confection looks like some kind of invasive mutant growth or alien colonisation. In reality, it is a meticulously crafted and jointed plywood structure, suspended from the brick facade by a network of steel cables. Heatherwick, who trained at the Royal College of Art, clearly relishes the tactile and sculptural potential of materials, especially timber.

Previous equally eye-catching installations include a slatted gazebo, made from thin strips of birch plywood, which was positioned outside the Royal College. Judging from the Harvey Nichols tentacles (now dismantled) he also relishes the chance to indulge in playful urban surrealism.

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Project: Harvey Nichols Department Store (London, UK)

Architect: Heatherwick Studio

Year: 1998

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