Article by Oliver Wainwright
Spokesperson for Thomas Heatherwick says he knew nothing of ideas shown to London Games organisers in 2007
As the polished copper petals of Thomas Heatherwick's Olympic cauldron rose up to form a striking flaming dandelion last July, gasps of awe and wonder echoed around the world at the structure's startling originality. In the offices of the New York design studio Atopia, however, there were gasps of a different kind.
"We were absolutely furious," said the practice's co-director Jane Harrison. "It looked identical to something we had proposed to the London Olympic committee back in 2007, after which we hadn't heard anything."
Locog originally approached Atopia, whose motto is "anticipate the future", to come up with ideas for a One Planet pavilion, a structure to embody the sustainable ethos behind the London Games.
"Our pitch was all about the story," Harrison said. "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."
Atopia's structure was designed to collect rainwater and generate power from solar cells rather than burning a constant supply of natural gas, but their sketches and models bear an uncanny resemblance to Heatherwick's design. His flaming flower also used the narrative sequence of the 205 nations coming together, with the metal dishes returned to the competing countries after the Olympics. It was critically acclaimed, won several awards, and earned the designer a place in the Queen's birthday honours list. His practice denies all knowledge of Atopia's earlier design.
"This has come completely out of the blue," a spokesperson for Heatherwick Studio said. "We have never seen this project before, nor were we made aware of it by Locog. The creative ideas for the cauldron were very much born from a conversation between Danny Boyle and Thomas Heatherwick."
Atopia is only now free to make its claims, having been gagged by a restrictive non-disclosure agreement since 2007 that prevented all companies from promoting any work related to the Olympics. The confidentiality agreement was lifted in January after a vociferous campaign and a government payment of £2m to the British Olympic Association.
Atopia, which also produced a white paper on strategic sustainability issues which it says was taken forward by Locog's contractors, has not received any payment for its work.