Atopia "not going to answer" questions
over Olympic images

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News: the design firm that claimed Thomas Heatherwick's Olympic cauldron bore "a striking resemblance" to its own work and this week received a financial settlement may never have shown images of its concept to London's Olympic organisers, it has emerged.

New York firm Atopia this week received an out-of-court settlement from liquidators representing LOCOG, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, who issued a statement accepting that prior to the games Atopia submitted a concept involving features such as "live-time construction" during the opening ceremony, "flower-shaped forms to be brought into the opening ceremony" by representatives of each participating nation and "flower shaped forms to be returned to the participating nations" after the games.



Atopia issued images of a structure bearing a strong resemblance to Heatherwick’s cauldron along with its press release about the settlement on Wednesday, but the firm refused to confirm that it had ever shown the images to LOCOG.

When asked by Dezeen whether Atopia presented the images to LOCOG in advance of the 2012 games, a spokesperson for Atopia said: "I'm not going to answer that question."

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This image and top: model shots issued by Atopia with its press release about the LOCOG settlement

However last year, Atopia’s practice co-director Jane Harrison told The Guardian that the presentation to LOCOG in 2008 "took the form of a script" and included the text that appears as captions on its sketches – but not the sketches themselves.

"It's a very visual piece of material," Harrison told the Guardian. "We held our sketches back because we wanted to safeguard our intellectual property. But that obviously didn't help."

Atopia's claims last year, plus a sketchbook of images it released that appeared to resemble Heatherwick’s cauldron, put Heatherwick on the defensive, forcing his studio to deny it had copied Atopia's ideas or designs.

Thomas Heatherwick rejects claims that Olympic cauldron is a copy as "spurious nonsense"
Images from the sketchbook referenced by Atopia

"This claim is spurious nonsense," said Heatherwick at the time. "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."

Heatherwick’s Olympic cauldron, which went on permanent exhibition at the Museum of London last night in a specially created gallery, featured 204 copper "petals". These were carried into the stadium by each country's team and attached to long stems on a circular base, before being lit and mechanically raised to form a single cluster of flames.

In a statement issued in June 2013, Atopia said: "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."

Instead, Atopia said it believed its "narrative scenario" for the pavilion inspired LOCOG. "All we have sought from LOCOG since July 2012 is a formal acknowledgement of this.”

"The issue for us is not about the object nor is it about Heatherwick's design," Atopia added at the time. "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."

Thomas Heatherwick rejects claims that Olympic cauldron is a copy as "spurious nonsense"
The 2012 Olympic cauldron designed by Thomas Heatherwick

Atopia's "sketchbook" is dated 02/2008. When asked for more details about when the images were created and whether they were shown to LOCOG the firm sent the following statement from Atopia co-director David Turnbull:

"Our relationship with LOCOG started in 2006 when my former Yale student Kevin Owens became Overlay Architect and later Design Principal. Over the course of more than 2 years of email exchanges and phone conversations we sent many concepts, diagrams, photomontages and sketches to Kevin at LOCOG including essays, powerpoint presentations, and notes. In return Kevin sent us photographs from his site visits to Doha and other venues that were relevant to our on-going work on the specific issues that Mega-Event organizers face that relate to the events themselves, ecological issues and technological developments.

"There are many ways in which ideas are transferred –  be they verbal, visual, written, drawn or modeled. There is uncertainty about who else at LOCOG saw the material. Notwithstanding this, we are delighted that a settlement has been reached."

Heatherwick Studio did not want to comment further on the matter, saying: "We refer back to our earlier statement that the design was entirely our own."

On Wednesday accountants Moore Stephens, who are settling LOCOG's accounts prior to shutting down the organisation, announced it had reached an out-of-court settlement with Atopia. A source close to the deal said the settlement was "a piffling amount".

  • BerryG

    Done now. Move on please.

    • Emma

      Just proves that the designer who claimed this-and-that has no integrity whatsoever…

      • Dan

        Shame Heatherwick, your true colors have been seen by the world and there is no doubt that this design was not your original work. ‘spurious nonsense’ and ‘ludicrous accusation …completely and entirely untrue.’ Well done Atopia, the TRUE designers of a great design.

  • marcusfairs

    If Atopia never presented its design, how could Heatherwick have copied it?

    • Dan

      Marcus, Has the London Olympic Organisers given you or I a financial settlement? No, thought not. I think they would only pay out Atopia if they knew that the design was truly theirs and that they had wrongfully forwarded design information to Heatherwick. It is pretty obvious and now supported by a financial payout. Heatherwick was wrong and his denials a little embarrassing now. Makes you wonder about his other work…

    • Dan

      Why wasn’t my reply published? The London Olympic organisers only pay out settlements in the event that there was wrong doing. Atopia should be recognised as the real authors of the Olympic Cauldron, the very actions of the London Olympic organisers suggest that. Facts are facts and must be faced. This one does not look good for Heatherwick now that the light is on it.

  • Mark Snow

    Fascinating.

    Kevin Owens, whose statement to The Guardian last year that “Strands of their work became part of what was taken forward, and I wish there was a way we could acknowledge that” helped start the whole ball rolling, now turns out to have been informally helping Atopia while they were bidding for LOCOG work.

    David Turnbull’s new comment that “There is uncertainty about who else at LOCOG saw the material” was made in response to a specific question about whether LOCOG saw visual representations of Atopia’s cauldron-like design, yet Owens himself had stated categorically to The Guardian that “he had never seen images of their proposals”- which would be in agreement with the statements of Atopia’s Jane Harrison.

  • Natalie North

    The thing I took away from this is that the settlement was paid on the basis that it was the narrative that was infringed upon. If that is the case, then Heatherwick is not to blame. Clients often provide a narrative for a designer to work with. The similar imagery is more likely coincidental, similar to that can be seen with many artworks across the world.