Britain ‘can compete in design’ says Johnson

An agreement for British designer Thomas Heatherwick to build two Beijing underground stations shows the UK is competitive in exporting to China, Boris Johnson has said.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson travels from Xidan to Gongzhufenin on Line 1 of the Beijing Metro

The Mayor of London celebrated the news by taking a ride on the capital’s underground and said that although Germany has excelled in exporting heavy machinery to the economic giant, Britain is competitive in creative industries like design and fashion.

It is understood that Mr Heatherwick, who designed the cauldron that featured in the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, could be commissioned to build an entire line for Beijing’s underground, which could include 15 to 20 stations. Mr Johnson said the news showed Britain is part of the boom in exports to China.

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He said: “Everywhere you go you see references to British culture and British brands, that’s extraordinary for me.

“When the whole Chinese thing really took off, Germany was supplying a lot of the heavy machine tools...but Britain is competitive in lots of areas and design, fashion, that kind of area we’re absolutely brilliant. Exports to China are booming and London’s a huge part of that.”

Mr Heatherwick, who is in China as part of Mr Johnson’s trade delegation, spoke of his desire to inject a “spirit of soulfulness” and distinctive Beijing character into his designs.

He said: “There will be a chance to think about the whole line as an entity, as a character and my interest would be how you could make that feel more distinctively Beijing. The UK and London has this heritage of phenomenal character and idiosyncrasy historically in its Underground system and in many places in the world new infrastructure is being built which ticks the box of getting you there but doesn’t give anything more in a spirit of soulfulness or the character and distinctiveness of a city.

“I think the most important thing is to dare to give it a character and that’s something which is missing in so many new underground systems that have been created around the world. That’s my passion and I think we’ve put a lot of energy into the art galleries and opera houses in architectural qualities and then things called infrastructure which range from power stations, hospitals, nursing homes, bridges, are the poor cousin. But the underground stations get more people going through them than any art gallery and therefore why shouldn’t they have more spirit to them?”