The Seed Cathedral Reminiscent of Deleuzean Fold


“…Shanghai 2010 Expo. The event is the largest Expo ever with two hundred countries taking part and over 70 million visitors expected. The theme of the Expo is ‘Better City, Better Life,’”[1]

Deleuze uses baroque architecture as a platform to articulate the “Fold;” an obscure, sensory, metaphysical relation of forms prompted by whorls, verticality, intricacies and interior/exterior relationships. However, Baroque architecture is a monument, and to follow Deleuze is to seek for new possibilities. Deleuzean ideas can be transferred to examples in contemporary architecture. Particularly, the Seed Cathedral, presented by the British firm, Heatherwick Studios, officially known as the UK Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010, is exemplary of the Fold.

Baroque architecture is not being compared with Heatherwick Studios’ creations; rather upon reading the Fold descriptors, the Seed Cathedral seemed to fit the characteristics well. Below borrows fundamental points of consideration, but is limited in meeting the full description of the Fold. However, there are celebrated and contemplative values in unperceived advancements in Heatherwick’s architectural designs through subtle principles of movement, geography, human experience, and relation of the interior/exterior.

First a disclaimer, Heatherwick in this particular structure, is bound by the parking lot geography set out by the Shanghai Expo. This limits the architectural relationship to geography. Even still, nature finds refuge. As Euclid was preceded, Heatherwick abates tradition to unveil new geometries of living.  There is no function in the pavilion but a marvel and a public experience; the Seed Cathedral could be one of those designs in architecture that helps transition thinkers to envision a possible world that explores integration of nature.

Deleuze and Heatherwick have a common enemy: blocs of “soulless and cold” buildings. [2] Thomas Heatherwick speaks new tongue in architectural discourse through implicit process, but he distinguishes his design stance through his concern for materiality in buildings. Heatherwick is nearly on the cusp of actualizing the push for temporal image milieu that is dynamical, variable world. Heatherwick conceptualizes buildings based off his personal interactions and response to conventional buildings. He is adamantly against straight up and down buildings out of cold material: this is his philo-architectural problem. This resembles the Deleuzean resistance to prominence of considering gravity in architectural planning. Because the mission of conceiving space joins his creations, Heatherwick can be considered to be on a continuum, traveling to the rolling new possibilities around the world.

The Seed Cathedral is a 20-metre high building, constructed from 60,000 transparent 7.5-metre long optical strands, each of which has embedded within its tip a seed.  The seeds come from Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew and their Millennium Seedbank. The interior is silent and illuminated only by the daylight that has filtered past each seed through each optical hair. This structure defies pragmatic usefulness, and honours nature. Heatherwick was also conscious to make the building playful and enjoyable to the public, and left the space around the Seed Cathedral open. He says, “a spiritual building is also a public building,”[3] signaling a respect for how the interplay between a building and people achieves intangible value and feeling when it is accessible to everyone.

The Fold perceives characteristics of a material that is ever potentially reduced, divided, and ever potentially unfolded, unraveled. Deleuze references Leibniz in explicating the Fold as

…a flexible or elastic body still has coherent parts which form a fold, with a result that they do not separated into parts of parts, but rather divide infinitely into smaller and smaller folds that always retain a certain cohesion. [4]

To consider the Fold as a design principle is to advocate for paradoxical perceptions and complex interactions.

To bind the descriptors of the Fold with The Seed Cathedral, consider the units of matter in the Fold. Minima are the smallest parts of the fabric of the Fold. In Heatherwick’s design, this refers to the encapsulated seeds within a larger cathedral. Optical rods are the genetic extension of the seeds. The rods express the singular growth of each seed amidst a collection of growth. Through the capsules, and concordantly through the optical rods, this design makes the seeds visible, and denotes new abstract Imagerelationship with nature. The relation of the smallest bit of seed attached to a larger optical cable, which extends to be a Fold, number of a blooming population of optical fibers. These rods are “…supple enough to be formed by what is outside or external to them, yet resilient enough to retain their coherence as architecture.”[5] The bendable nature of the rods is stable, strong, and yields to the wind. The wind interacts with these fibers to distinguish movements for the entire Seed Cathedral. A guest can experience the seed cathedral from outside, from inside, up close to each seed, each fiber, from the side. The building is seemingly uniform, but it is punctuated with distinctive individuality willed to be cohesive within a contained architectural structure. As Deleuze says, “A multiplicity is neither one nor many, but a continuous assemblage of heterogeneous singularities that exhibited both collective qualities of continuity and local qualities of heterogeneity.” [6]

What further enunciates the interior/exterior relationship in the design is how the light source is hosted. The holes in the Heatherwick building actually fold to embrace or project light. In the daytime, light peers onto the building, creating a sensational illuminated interior.Image These individual optic rods are attached to the building through ports, which also serve as openings for light to come into the interior. These multiple ports become an assemblage of light sources. At nighttime, the interior is artificially lighted, omitting outward through those ports. The building’s singular light source projects out in multiple directions, and the Seed Cathedral glows. This interplay of light sources, light directions, and light experience coincides with the idea of the Fold, where the interior and the exterior are the same. Light transforms the building, depending on the availability of sources. This design may be a member of a new regime of light Deleuze uses baroque architecture to exemplify the Fold: the interior is autonomous, and the exterior is independent, but both in a way that each impact the other. This fits Deleuze’s theory of the Fold: the inside and outside are inseparable.

The Seed Cathedral, a living form, is a result of a conscious of relationship to nature. There is harmony in vectors; the optical rods, which pull to a center. Then the interior warps to a curvaceous realm, meanwhile the extending branches align with the horizon and beyond. This structure has movement and openness.

Dullness of surroundings translates to dullness of the spirit, and the Seed Cathedral is an triumph of enlivening the nature, and material of architectural forms. It is possible that separation from or a tendency to exert dominance over nature alienates the human capacity to honour and nature it. Deleuzean ideas relating to the concept of the Fold is significant because it encourages designers and spectators to consider architecture as biological blocs of sensation. As Heatherwick’s approach to architecture grants the public with a lively spectacular structure, such is the result of thinking of architecture through other priorities. With such concepts in mind, relations between geography, buildings and the audience are calibrated, and could invariably influence possible designs. The Seed Cathedral, whether or not directly tied into Deleuzean ideas at the time of conception, reveals this favoring of conceptual architecture.

| Bria |


Cache, Bernard. Earth Moves: The Furnishing of Territories. Los Angeles: MIT Press, 1995: P. xvi

Deleuze, Giles. “The Fold,” Trans. Jonathan Strauss. Yale French Studies, No. 80, 1991, Pp 227 – 247.

“U.K. Pavilion,” Heatherwick Studios. Retrieved April 7, 2012, From:

Heatherwick, Thomas. “Thomas Heatherwick: Building the Seed Cathedral” Retrieved April 7, 2012, From:

Unknown Author. “Thomas Heatherwick,” TimeOut Hong Kong. Retrieved April 7, 2012, From:


Song, Aly. “The Seed Cathedral – Photo Essays,” TIME MAGAZINE. Retrieved April 11 From:,29307,2030655,00.html

[1] “U.K. Pavilion,” Heatherwick Studios. Retrieved April 7, 2012, From:

[2] Heatherwick, Thomas. “Thomas Heatherwick: Building the Seed Cathedral” Retrieved April 7, 2012, From:

[3] Unkown. “Thomas Heatherwick,” TimeOut Hong Kong. Retrieved April 7, 2012, From:

[4] Deleuze, The Fold. P. 233

[5] Cache, Bernard. Earth Moves: The Furnishing of Territories. Los Angeles: MIT Press, 1995: P. xvi

[6] Deleuze, P. 23



  1. immanentterrain2 Says:

    I found the TEDtalk video posted in the reference section very innovative in the manner in which Heatherwick re-conceptualizes architectural form. When he begins to explain his ideas for reconfiguring bridge designs it was quite inspiring. Instead of the bridge breaking in half through tensions and forces, the bridge would instead curl and fold back onto itself. I suppose this is a literal example of a sort of fold; however, it is interesting the way in which spectators interact with such a structure. This seems to be at the core of Heatherwick’s designs: a point of intrigue and delight in a design. It is something in which function and form come together to elicit public awe and fascination, as well as usability. He also discusses experimentation with texture in his designs—mentioned in your post above—mentioning the problem he has with ‘cold buildings.’ I think the curiosity Deleuze found in Baroque architecture was the consideration of architecture as a type of sculpture rather than a utilitarian structure—that architecture itself has the capability to be affective both in the way it functions and the manner in which it gives back to the community space of a city. The concepts of Heatherwick’s work seem to be influenced by Frank Gehry’s designs. Although Gehry was often criticized for the way in which some of his structures ‘wasted’ materials—taking design over function—Gehry’s work continued the thought of combining elements of architecture and sculptural elements. The Peter B. Lewis building is an interesting example of Gehry’s conceptual framework. Gehry emphasized rethinking form, and conventional trends in contemporary architecture. An aspect that Heatherwick seems to employ, which Gehry often lacked, is the integration of sustainable structures—structures that are innovative designs while simultaneously contemplating the impact on the environment. However, it did not come across in all of Heatherwick’s designs, the re-design of the power plant in Britain as well as the apartment complex illustrated new ways of seeing and experiencing architectural works as a function of our daily lives.

    j. lindsey

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: