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Seed Cathedral

  • Object:

    Acrylic rod

  • Place of origin:

    UK (designed)

  • Date:

    2010 (designed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Heatherwick, Thomas (designer)
    Heatherwick Studio (designer)
    Mace Group

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Acrylic rod encasing seeds

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mace Group

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level C, case MOD, shelf A, box 4

Thomas Heatherwick's studio was selected by the British Government to design the UK Pavilion for the Shanghai 2010 World Expo. They designed the "Seed Cathedral", an enormous box measuring 15 by 10 metres, which was covered in 60,000 acrylic rods. Working with the Millennium Seed Bank at Kew Gardens, thousands of individual varieties of seeds were sourced from China’s Kunming Institute of Botany and cast into the tips of each of these acrylic rods. At night the seeds were backlit by LED lights embedded in the rods, while during the daytime the clear rods drew down sunlight so that the seeds acted as miniature stained glass windows, resulting in a serene, delicately illuminated interior.

Sir Andrew Cahn, Senior Responsible Officer in the Foreign Office for the Shanghai Expo, has said that World Expositions are about national branding, and from the start Heatherwick endeavoured to create a Pavilion that showed an unexpected and extraordinary aspect of Britain. As more people in the world would see the outside of the Pavilion than would visit its interior, the "Seed Cathedral" was designed to stand out by its visually distinctive exterior. The UK Pavilion ultimately won the Expo's gold medal for Pavilion design

After the Expo closed the Pavilion was dismantled and the seed rods dispersed. These 9 rod tips were given to the V&A by Mace Group, the company who managed the project. In 2013 a model of the British Pavilion was sold at auction in Shanghai for $215,000.

After completing his MA at the Royal College of Art, Thomas Heatherwick established the Studio in 1994, as a space in which to produce extraordinary projects. Rejecting conventional classifications, Heatherwick and his team explore the thresholds between standard design categories. Celebrating the pure joy of creating 3-dimensional forms, the Heatherwick studio has earned an international reputation for creating stunning and ingenious works that span a breathtaking array of disciplines: from architecture, furniture, product design and fashion, to engineering, sculpture, transport and urban planning. Heatherwick and his studio were the subject of an exhibition held at the V&A in 2012. The Museum also holds a model of Heatherwick's 2012 Olympic Cauldron that was especially made for the exhibition by Heatherwick Studio.

Physical description

One of 9 acrylic seed rods from the UK Pavilion "Seed Cathedral" at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, designed by Thomas Heatherwick. Each acrylic rod encases 3 seeds, taken from the Millennium Seed Bank at Kew.

Place of Origin

UK (designed)


2010 (designed)


Heatherwick, Thomas (designer)
Heatherwick Studio (designer)
Mace Group

Materials and Techniques

Acrylic rod encasing seeds


Height: 4.2 cm, Width: 3.6 cm, Depth: 27.9 cm

Object history note

These objects formed the tips of the seed rods that were part of the UK Pavilion, "Seed Cathedral", at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. They are the gift of Mace Group, who provided project, design and cost managment and main contractor services for the design and construction of the Pavilion.

Descriptive line

One of 9 acrylic seed rods from the UK Pavilion "Seed Cathedral" at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, designed by Thomas Heatherwick.


Acrylic; Seeds

Subjects depicted



Designs; Architecture; Architectural models


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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