Heatherwick Studio is launching a report on “boring” buildings

76 per cent of Brits believe buildings have an impact on our mental health. So Heatherwick is pushing for attention-grabbing architecture with a “1,000-year” life span.

19 October 2023

Thomas Heatherwick is launching a campaign against “grey, plain and boring” buildings, following research revealing that a building’s appearance can impact the public’s health and the climate.

The latest report from Heatherwick states that 76 per cent of the British public find architecture can influence their mental health. Meanwhile, two thirds feel “powerless” to get involved with how their local landscape looks. Heatherwick also points to the connection between dull buildings and the climate emergency. With 11 per cent of global carbon emissions coming from construction and 50,000 buildings knocked down annually in the UK, Heatherwick says boring architecture increases the likelihood of a wasteful construction cycle.

But what constitutes a boring building? Does grey equal ugly, when you consider things like brutalism? And who gets to decide what tastes will stand the test of time – how do you measure Thomas’ rule that all architecture should be built to last 1,000 years, for example? The answer, according to Heatherwick, comes from prioritising public opinion.

A so-called ‘Boring Building Index’ has been launched as part of the campaign, to create a public census of the problem. Users are being invited to submit pictures of local buildings which they deem depressing or unattractive. Heatherwick will analyse the results to better understand what the public think and want.


Copyright © Will Storr

“We have spent 100 years making buildings that few people love,” says Thomas Heatherwick. “They get demolished and replaced, and demolished and replaced, over and over again because nobody cares. And that generates extraordinary waste and massive carbon emissions.” Thomas’ new book Humanise - A Maker’s Guide to Building Our World, will investigate this problem in detail.

Grayson Perry has shared a comment on the upcoming book: “Thomas Heatherwick echoes many things I find myself saying as I travel round the country. How the hell did that monstrosity get built? Why is this place so depressing? Why is so much of the built environment so boring? This book will wind up quite a few architects, planners and developers who labour under the delusion that they are the adults in the room. Good. These people need to develop some compassion for the people who have to live with their joyless, bland, unlovable creations. This book is a super accessible guide as to why we shouldn’t put up with soulless buildings and how we might change that.”

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Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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