World of Sport

‘Furious’ design studio claims Olympic cauldron plagiarism

World of Sport

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Danny Boyle's spectacular opening ceremony was undoubtedly one of the highlights of last summer's Olympic Games in London, but not everyone who watched the elaborate curtain-raiser was marvelling at its brilliance.

Atopia, a small design company, were shocked to find out that the star of the show - the Olympic cauldron, which rose up out of a sea of copper petals - bore a striking resemblance to a design they had submitted to Games organisers five years previously.

"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."

The practice, which has offices in London and New York, had first been approached by Locog - the Games' organising committee - about ideas for the ceremony that would symbolise the Games' theme of sustainability.

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"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."

So imagine the surprise in the Atopia office when they saw Thomas Heatherwick CBE's design unveiled at the Olympic Stadium.

Heatherwick was lauded for his efforts and went on to win awards for his design as well as being recognised by the Queen in her birthday honours list. His own office reacted swiftly to the claims and denied any suggestion of plagiarism.

"This has come completely out of the blue," a spokesperson for his 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 claim the ideas contained in a paper they produced for Locog on sustainability issues was also taken forward, something for which they were not paid.

"It was a crushing disappointment," said Harrison. "We were led to believe it was a confidential presentation to the high-level board, so it was even more shocking to see the ideas had been taken forward by others without us. We are a small office, so we can't afford to launch legal action.

"The whole process reveals the ease with which big organisations tend to absorb creative input and adopt it over time almost unconsciously.

"Either that, or we're the best clairvoyants in the business."

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