Thomas Heatherwick rejects claims that Olympic
cauldron is a copy as "spurious nonsense"

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Thomas Heatherwick rejects claims that Olympic cauldron is a copy as "spurious nonsens"

News: Thomas Heatherwick has denied any knowledge of a design presented to the London Olympic committee in 2007 by an American firm, which bears a strong resemblance to his cauldron used at the climax of last summer's Olympic opening ceremony.

Images of a proposal for a pavilion shown to LOCOG in 2007 by New York design studio Atopia were published by The Guardian newspaper this morning and show a cluster of petals atop long slender poles that looks strikingly like the design by Heatherwick Studio, which consisted of 204 copper petals that came together to create a single flame.

Heatherwick, who was awarded a CBE on the Queen's 2013 Birthday Honours list last week for services to the design industry, says the idea that his studio's design was influenced by Atopia's project or by LOCOG is false. "This claim is spurious nonsense. The ludicrous accusation that LOCOG briefed us to work with, develop or implement a pre-existing idea and that we acted in accordance with this briefing is completely and entirely untrue."

Thomas Heatherwick rejects claims that Olympic cauldron is a copy as "spurious nonsense"
The two designs featured on the front page of the Guardian today

The designer added: "Before this week, I – and the entire team I was working with – knew absolutely nothing about this proposal, or the ideas it is claimed it contained. None of us saw or were shown the illustrations published in The Guardian on 19 June 2013 until two days ago."

"Danny [Boyle, artistic director of the opening ceremony] and I evolved the idea for the cauldron over many months, in iterative rounds of discussions and I am appalled at the suggestion that either of us would let ourselves be influenced by any previous work. We were most definitely not steered by LOCOG towards this or any other idea. Any suggestion to the contrary is an affront to our creative integrity."

Danny Boyle has also dismissed the claims, stating: "As Artistic Director of the London 2012 Olympic Ceremony, I asked Thomas Heatherwick to take on the design of the Olympic Cauldron because of the integrity and originality of his ideas."

"I also absolutely and categorically reject any suggestion, whatever its motive, that Thomas or I were influenced by anything other than our obligation to create a ceremonial work of art that celebrated British originality, creativity and engineering," Boyle added. "This is total nonsense and must not be allowed to spoil our appreciation of Thomas's magnificent work."

Thomas Heatherwick rejects claims that Olympic cauldron is a copy as "spurious nonsense"
Sketches showing Atopia's proposal

Speaking to Oliver Wainwright in The Guardian, Jane Harrison, the co-director at New York design studio Atopia said that Heatherwick's cauldron "looked identical to something we had proposed to the London Olympic committee back in 2007, after which we hadn't heard anything."

Harrison added that Atopia's proposal also featured a similar narrative to the construction of the cauldron at the opening ceremony, which was assembled from petals brought to the stadium by each of the competing nations.

"We devised a structure of petals on tall stems, which would travel from all of the participating countries, then be brought into the stadium by children. The petals would be assembled during the opening ceremony to form a flower-like canopy, and distributed back to the different nations after the Games," she explained.

Thomas Heatherwick rejects claims that Olympic cauldron is a copy as "spurious nonsense"

Atopia has only recently been allowed to raise its concerns after a gagging order preventing architects, engineers and builders from promoting their involvement in the Games was lifted.

Heatherwick received acclaim from the public for the design of the cauldron, although its positioning inside the Olympic Stadium and out of sight for many visitors to the Olympic park sparked controversy.

See all stories about Thomas Heatherwick »

Below are the complete quotes from Thomas Heatherwick, filmmaker Danny Boyle and former head of ceremonies for London 2012, Martin Green:


Thomas Heatherwick, Heatherwick Studio

"This claim is spurious nonsense. The ludicrous accusation that LOCOG briefed us to work with, develop or implement a pre-existing idea and that we acted in accordance with this briefing is completely and entirely untrue.

Before this week, I – and the entire team I was working with – knew absolutely nothing about this proposal, or the ideas it is claimed it contained. None of us saw or were shown the illustrations published in The Guardian on 19 June 2013 until two days ago.

Danny and I evolved the idea for the cauldron over many months, in iterative rounds of discussions and I am appalled at the suggestion that either of us would let ourselves be influenced by any previous work. We were most definitely not steered by LOCOG towards this or any other idea. Any suggestion to the contrary is an affront to our creative integrity.”

Danny Boyle

"As Artistic Director of the London 2012 Olympic Ceremony, I asked Thomas Heatherwick to take on the design of the Olympic Cauldron because of the integrity and originality of his ideas.

Before Tuesday, neither of us had seen, heard of or knew about the existence of the illustrations published in The Guardian on 19 June 2013.

Thomas and I evolved the idea for the cauldron over many months of discussions. I categorically deny that LOCOG briefed us to work with, develop or implement any pre-existing idea that had been presented to them.

I also absolutely and categorically reject any suggestion, whatever its motive, that Thomas or I were influenced by anything other than our obligation to create a ceremonial work of art that celebrated British originality, creativity and engineering.

This is total nonsense and must not be allowed to spoil our appreciation of Thomas's magnificent work."

Martin Green, former Head of Ceremonies, London 2012

“Neither these nor any other images or presentations played any part in the briefing I gave to Danny Boyle and Thomas Heatherwick at the beginning of the process to create the Olympic and Paralympic Cauldron. The design for the cauldron came about solely from the creative conversations between Danny, Thomas and myself.”

  • Open design

    If Heatherwick denies knowledge, why do former LOCOG team state in the Guardian that:

    “Locog has been disbanded, but its former design principle, Kevin Owens, described the situation as “unfortunate”. “Atopia really are forward thinkers,” he said. “Strands of their work became part of what was taken forward, and I wish there was a way we could acknowledge that.”

  • niagh

    Atopia cannot afford to sue. Kickstarter to raise funds anyone?

  • Callum

    Convergent evolution of design?

    • John

      Yes, just like Darwin and Wallace.

      • Callum

        Exactly. How many unique ideas could really come from the same brief when steered by the same factors?

  • Koda

    I find it incredibly hard to believe how this can be pure coincidence – from an almost identical design, to the very detailed concept of each part being brought in by children of each country. It’s a great design, but I do sympathise with Atopia in this case.

  • http://www.michaelhutchison.co.uk Mike

    Great minds think alike eh!

  • James

    Oh dear Thomas. Massively busted!

  • Bob Barton

    The statement by Kevin Owers, as quoted in the Guardian, does not quite fit with the responses of Heatherwick and Boyle:

    It is perfect possible the brief contained the solution, but that image from the Atopia site is much harder to address. Does the Atopia image have a clear provenance? Without that image this is a non-story.

  • badform

    Dear Dezeen,

    The guardian article makes reference to LOCOG design principal Kevin Owens, who is quoted as saying the situation is “unfortunate”, that “Atopia really are forward thinkers,” and “Strands of their work became part of what was taken forward, and I wish there was a way we could acknowledge that.”

    Why is this not included or considered relevant to your story? This appears to be an admission by LOCOG that the Atopia design came first and influenced them. This is the same LOCOG that then commissioned, as client, Heatherwick & Boyle – and so this seems therefore key to the whole scenario, do you not think?

    Perhaps Heatherwick didn’t see the Atopia pitch design (although it’s hard to believe given the absolute visual facsimile – for those own don’t agree I don’t think you can dispute that Atopia model could be mistaken for a Heatherwick model) but even if he didn’t, the project clearly – given the LOCOG admission – owes a lot to the Atopia thinking.

    For me that is the issue here. The responses of Heatherwick and Boyle are in my opinion really unnecessary – when this is so clearly being admitted by their client, why do they not at least knowledge graciously that it is a really unfortunate situation for Atopia to not be credited in some way for their prior involvement (with LOCOG if no one else). They could do this without losing face – they could go on to say “but we knew nothing of their scheme” for example. Seems that is the least they could do.

    The most they could do is transparently publish, with dates, their design team meeting minutes and associated design drawings – if, as they say, it is their original design they should have nothing to hide!

    The truth seems to be in your article however, where Heatherwick is “appalled” that he could in some way “be influenced by any previous work”. This to me really plays into the view that designers (and architects) see themselves as artist-creators, where the originality of the idea is the holy grail. I would point out that no ideas exist in a vacuum – the idea of them being original and uninfluenced is therefore the nonsense here, not, as Boyle states, Atopia’s claims.

  • Really?

    Heatherwick really doesnt need to steal. He has more than enough ideas of his own.

    • Juan Caraballo

      Oh yes! Exactly what I was thinking till now.

    • Wikileaks

      Who knows…

  • WTF

    Lost respect for Heatherwick.

    • mitio

      … never had it.

  • charlespwhitaker

    The key quote from the Guardian article is this one:

    “LOCOG has been disbanded, but its former design principle, Kevin Owens, described the situation as ‘unfortunate’.”

    “Atopia really are forward thinkers,” he said. “Strands of their work became part of what was taken forward, and I wish there was a way we could acknowledge that.”‘

    Yes, if only there were a way.. The politest form of “acknowledgement” I can think of is to actually pay your designers. The Olympics were only last year, so not too late.

    • Joan

      I was just going to say that I think their cynical “wishful thinking” is an outrage. It’s embarrassing for LOCOG and, less drastically so, for Heatherwick and Boyle.

  • Noelb76

    LOCOG’s former design principle is quoted in The Guardian saying that strands of the Atopia work were taken forward… And then set fire to at the end of the ceremony!

    Surely even if it was a coincidence, someone at LOCOG should have said “actually Thomas, this is exactly the same idea as an earlier submission so were going to go with the originators instead.”

    • Airborne

      Absolutely agree. I don’t believe Heatherwick would have created this design if he knew of the earlier identical proposal. In the worst case, some people who knew of Atopia’s submission have made suggestions to Heatherwick leading to the almost identical work.

      He should also sue the former LOGOC members for not informing him about Atopia’s design of the cauldron. Regardless of what happened this is a serious blow to Heatherwick’s imago.

  • mollycod

    Why has this only surfaced now? Were they paid off?

    • amsam

      Read the text please.

  • joe

    Whether this is true or not it only looks very bad on the Heatherwick studio. I must agree with Koda; there is looking similar and then there is looking exactly the same. Even the lovely detail of the petals’ form is expressed in the initial model. If the Americans feel strongly enough they should proceed with legal action.

  • czto

    Subconscious knowledge I would say. Someone saw it, and forgot about it, but it remained in their mind, to eventually surface with a feeling of it being developed by its own thoughts…

  • Derek

    Read the article – there was a gag order.

    • Chris

      Why would one adhere to a non-disclosure agreement if one wasn’t contracted into any work? Also why has it taken them five months after the gagging order was lifted for them to voice their concerns? Seems like gutter journalism and litigiousness to me.

  • Man

    The resemblance is UNCANNY.

  • krs
  • Juan Caraballo

    Wow, everything is the same here, conception and execution. Even if you came across the same idea (which is highly weird) of each team carrying their part of the cauldron to build it at the end the shapes, arrangements and design must be different. No two people came with the same shape of forks that easily.

  • Futomaki

    There are no new ideas. Heatherwick isn't fooling anyone.

  • The Roman

    How incredibly embarrasing for the UK and soul-destroying for the originator of this idea. There should be an inquiry to find the truth about how Atopia’s design came to be delivered by Heatherwick Studio.

    Following are other interesting examples of works that bear a striking resembalance to Heatherwick projects:

    Foster and Partners’ design for a new Routemaster bus:

    <a href="http://inhabitat.com/london-bus-by-foster-and-partners/” target=”_blank”>http://inhabitat.com/london-bus-by-foster-and-par

    Heatherwick’s Routemaster bus:

    http://www.designweek.co.uk/news/heatherwicks-new

    The work of Norman Mooney:

    <a href="http://artstormer.com/2011/03/17/stick-it-sculptures-by-norman-mooney/” target=”_blank”>http://artstormer.com/2011/03/17/stick-it-sculptu

    Heatherwick’s ‘B’ of the Bang:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2009/feb/1

    Heatherwick’s shed:

    http://newlaunches.com/archives/sitooterie_ii_the

    Heatherwick’s 2010 Expo Pavillion:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2010/may/0

    The last one is a case of “Here’s one we made earlier”.

  • jed

    There is absolutely no way this can be a coincidence. I’m not saying for sure that Heatherwick knew (although, come on…) but someone involved stole Atopia’s entire concept and developed it under Heatherwick’s name. It’s shameful.

  • http://www.utedesign.com.au Kain

    Heatherwick can go on about how offensive the suggestion of plagiarism is, but this idea was clearly not his own. This is a scandal, especially given the recent changes in the UK’s design laws. Looking at the recent behaviour of English ‘starchitects’, there seems to be a culture of IP theft in the UK’s design industries.

  • Tyler

    The fact that it’s a copy is so blatantly obvious. My guess is LOCOG loved Atopia’s design, but didn’t love that its designer wasn’t English. So they stole it, full well knowing that the gag order would protect them until long after the Olympics were over.

    At this point, no one really cares about London 2012 anymore, so Atopia is completely screwed.

    • d…

      Pretty sure at least one of the two founders of Atopia is English, possibly both, so whilst I appreciate the cynicism I’m not sure that’s the reason.

  • Adrian

    I’m not making any accusations… but it is undeniable that the two designs are strikingly similar! REALLY, REALLY similar.

  • http://twitter.com/Alegnalehcim @Alegnalehcim

    Hey I’ve seen a bunch of tulip as well, I could make something out of that? But do i have to give credit to Atopia for that?

    I’d say: Atopia’s design didn’t work, and Heatherwick studio had their shining moment already, and created history. Now, find something else to do!

    • Juan Caraballo

      In your dreams you will came across with such a good idea seeing the same bunch of tulips, judging by your comment.

    • beatrice

      I was going to say something like that, but honestly, I’ve never seen a bunch of tulips that looked like that. Sorry Tom, it’s too much of a coincidence. Cryptomnesia at work most likely.

  • http://www.theenglisheye.com Mr J

    Being accused of plagiarism is among the worst things that can happen to any creative, let alone someone with Heatherwick’s talent and reputation. Best thing is for all involved is to open up fully and see where this leads.

  • D-formist

    The same client, the same event, the same narrative, identical design… it must be a coincidence.

  • boooo!

    I’d be kind of happy to see one of my ideas have this kind of success. Sure the economics of it suck, but if you’re a good designer you’ll get other chances.

  • ks/

    This is a great motivation for young, unknown, talented designers who have great innovative ideas, because the celebrated British design darling will take them from you and put his name on them to get even more famous and celebrated. But hey! Maybe Heatherwick will offer them an internship.

  • BrianK

    On Atopia’s website: http://atopiainnovation.com/london-2012-press-sta

    “We have never accused Thomas Heatherwick of plagiarism. We have never claimed to be designers of the cauldron in spite of claims in the press. We are entirely focused on the issue of how ideas transmit through large organizations, often organically and unconsciously.

    This becomes an even more complex issue when work and material submitted by small organizations is subject to stringent Confidentiality Agreements. The issue for us is not about the object nor is it about Heatherwick’s design. It does bear a striking resemblance to our project work and sketchbook from 2008 and as such this has been the point of focus of the press.

    But for us this is not the point. It is the written narrative that we are concerned with as this is key component in the way we work, developing scenarios for clients that allow them to imagine possibilities years ahead of time and catalyze thinking within their organizations to deliver socially engaged innovation­­­­.

    It is the narrative scenario along with our other tender content that we believe proved inspirational at LOCOG and this is what it was intended to do. All we have ever sought from LOCOG since July 2012 is a formal acknowledgement of this.”

  • Sawsan

    I don’t believe such thing! They can’t be that silly to copy the design and claim it. And I do believe that conceptual thinking and connecting the same dots can lead to the same conclusions. I’ve been before where I saw one of my designs a year later published under the name of another designer where I’m sure that he didn’t ever see it.

  • S_Rosengold

    Does anyone know why exactly the ‘Olympic flower’ sketchbook is missing on Issuu?
    Sounds strange too me I don’t believe atopia until I see there previous presentation with those sketches.

    http://atopiainnovation.com/london-2012/

    <a href="http:// (http://issuu.com/atopia/docs/london_2012_cultural_olympiad_final)” target=”_blank”> <a href="http://(http://issuu.com/atopia/docs/london_2012_cultural_olympiad_final)” target=”_blank”>(http://issuu.com/atopia/docs/london_2012_cultural_olympiad_final)

  • ilukin

    Anyways the cauldron WASN’T a great design though. Its just too silly to fight over it guys.

  • Really?

    The details to which you are all referring to are the narrative sequence for the way the torches were brought into the stadium not the cauldron itself. Also the striking resemblance you are all talking about is between the shape of Heatherwick’s cauldron and the Vague structure shown in rough sketches of what was intended to be Atopia’s ‘One Planet Pavilion’, so not their design for the cauldron then.

    That’s what Atopia’s initial claim of copying was about. Firstly they wern’t accusing Heatherwick they were accusing LOCOG (that’s a separate issue) and it wasnt a claim of copying thier torch design because A. it was a design of a pavilion you are all comparing Heatherwicks design to and B. they never designed a cauldron. As a result Atopia are rightfully retracting their claim to prevent any further confusion.

    So their pavilion looks like the cauldron. Can you accuse a designer of stealing if they design a lamp which looks like a shower head? Also I think everyone is forgetting all the detail of the finished final design, there was a lot more to Heatherwicks cauldron than the fact it looked like petals.

    AND! actually if you ask me the final shape of the cauldron was the least interesting thing about the design. If anything it was the ingenuity, engineering and surprise of the torches morphing from their initial dome form to their final resting point and the originality of thought to use such a shape to be not just a cauldron but the Olympic cauldron. The history of which would have limited most designers to a catalogue of cliched forms.

    Greenish and Angela are right (comments made above), enough time has passed to allow for Heatherwick/Boyle to get their lawyers in and too right. This has already been a disgraceful stain on the reputation of one of the world’s best designers and I also agree with beatrice that this has gone on long enough.

    An apology is due though I fear the damage might already be done.