CULTURE FOR VULTURES

~ Posted by Robert Butler, May 31st 2012

When readers of Intelligent Life visit "Heatherwick Studio: Designing the Extraordinary"—which opened today at the V&A in London—they will recognise many of the exhibits that featured in our cover profile of Thomas Heatherwick two issues ago. Just outside the exhibition, there are half a dozen of the "Spun" chairs, one of which Heatherwick sat in for this photo, and inside there's the rolling bridge and the single-component aluminium bench (that appear in the background of that photo). And there also, against the far wall, is the rear section of the new London bus that Heatherwick has designed. 

In our article, the writer Bryan Appleyard quotes Heatherwick saying, 

I resist the idea that culture is only opera houses or theatres. Culture is your entire life around you: toilets, the bus, the kerb or the dump where you drag your waste. Culture has come to mean the arts, but it’s swimming pools as well.

One exhibit demonstrates the ubiquity of culture in an even more elemental way. Next to the models for a 20-storey residential block in a north London suburb, and a 40-storey hotel in Hong Kong, and a Grand Hotel in Qatar, there's a rather less eye-catching model and photograph of an aviary in a park in Mumbai. 

The purpose of the aviary is to protect vultures. The Parsis in Mumbai practise Zoroastrianism and place their dead in structures known as "Towers of Silence" or "dakhmas", where the bodies are exposed to the elements and consumed by vultures. But in recent years, the number of vultures has declined. The aviary nurtures the vulture population and the planting around the towers prevents anyone looking in from high-rise buildings nearby. In Mumbai, culture meets vulture.

Robert Butler is online editor of Intelligent Life