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July 30 2012

Thomas Heatherwick: the man who designed the Olympic cauldron

Find out more about one of Britain's most celebrated designers, hailed by Terence Conran as 'the Leonardo da Vinci of our times'

Since his emergence in the late 1990s, the work of designer Thomas Heatherwick has been hugely acclaimed. He was called "the Leonardo da Vinci of our times" by his mentor and fellow designer Terence Conran.

However, it is Heatherwick's design for the Olympic cauldron that has made him a household name. When the cauldron, codenamed Betty, was lit by seven young athletes, and its 204 copper "petals" rose to create one huge flame, it caused jaws to drop around the world.

Heatherwick revealed that his cauldron was made in Yorkshire in what he described as "the most sophisticated shed in Harrogate ... like the Bond gadget workshop".

Though the secrecy surrounding it was so complete that the young athletes lighting it didn't even tell their parents, the design was cheekily hidden in plain sight on wallets for the tickets to the opening ceremony.

Here, Oliver Wainwright of Building Design compares Heatherwick's Olympic torch to its predecessors.

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Heatherwick's work is currently the subject of a retrospective at the V&A in London. He took the Guardian's Steve Rose on a tour of it in May. Read Rowan Moore's review of it here.

Nicholas Wroe interviewed Heatherwick about his career just before the show opened in May. We also made a gallery of his studio's most famous designs.

In February, Heatherwick's redesign of the London bus was revealed to acclaim, though only eight of them are currently on the roads.

His design for the UK pavilion at the Shanghai Expo in 2010 won the gold medal and ended up on the cover of the last album by cerebral dance act Junior Boys.

Before the Olympics, Heatherwick's involvements with sport had been less happy. B of the Bang, his sculpture to commemorate the 2002 Commonwealth games, had to be dismantled after fears that its spikes – one of which fell off – could present a danger to passers-by.


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London 2012: Olympic cauldron relit after move to southern end of stadium

Cauldron relocated from centre of Olympic Stadium and relit by torchbearer who carried flame during London 1948 Games

The flame in Betty, the Olympic cauldron, was temporarily transferred to a lantern on Sunday night as the 8.5-metre structure was moved from the centre of the stadium in preparation for the start of the athletics at the end of the week.

The cauldron, which was one of the highlights of the opening ceremony, now sits at the southern end of the stadium, ahead of the 100m finish line in a nod to the position of both her predecessor at the 1948 London Games and the spot occupied by the cauldron in the old Wembley Stadium.

It will take 80 hours to turn the Olympic Stadium from the prop-filled setting of Danny Boyle's opening ceremony back to an 80,000-capacity sporting arena in readiness for the competitions. The flame was taken from the cauldron at 9pm on Sunday and placed in a special miners' lantern before work began to relocate the structure.

The cauldron, made up of 205 steel pipes and individually designed copper petals inscribed with the competing nation's names, was moved to a position inside rather than above the stadium, and relit at 7.50am on Monday.

Austin Playfoot, a torchbearer from the 1948 Olympics when he carried the flame from the Horse & Groom pub in Merrow to the Municipal Offices in Guildford, did the honours of relighting Betty by transferring the flame back from the miners' lamp using a 2012 torch.

Playfoot described his role as an "honour".

He added: "When I ran with the Olympic flame in Guildford I never thought I would get this close to the cauldron, it brought me to tears when it lit up. It will be an incredible inspiration to the competing athletes here at the heart of the Olympic Park in the stadium."

The cauldron will to be dismantled after the Games and each of the petals will be given to the competing 204 national Olympic committees.


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London 2012: Olympic cauldron moves from centre of stadium

The Olympic cauldron is put out and the flame transferred to a lamp as it is moved to the edge of the south stand



July 29 2012

Betty the Olympic cauldron moves away from centre stage

After an elegant opening ceremony performance, the flame shifts across the arena to make way for the sports

Sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning a team of workers will head into the Olympic stadium to shift the majestic Betty from her pride of place at the centre of the arena to a less focal, but scarcely less important, spot.

Along with the Queen, Daniel Craig and a cast of thousands, the Olympic cauldron acquitted herself elegantly at the opening ceremony, raising her fiery petals at the end of the night to form a perfect dandelion of flame and set a new standard for understated first-night aesthetics.

Her job now done, Betty – codenamed thus by the secretive organisers in honour of the executive producer's dog – will be moved to the end of the arena in a nod to the position of both her predecessor at the 1948 London Games and the spot occupied by the cauldron in the old Wembley stadium.

To make way, the 23-tonne, harmonically tuned bell that Bradley Wiggins rang to herald the beginning of London 2012 will, very carefully, be carted away into storage while it waits to find a new and more permanent home.

Although the decision not to hoist Betty above the stadium where she could be glimpsed by visitors has been questioned by some, the International Olympic Committee said her relocation was a matter solely for Locog.

"We allow people to have the cauldron where they want to," said an IOC spokesman. "London Games organisers did not want to compete with other cauldrons. We are fully supportive of that."

The cauldron's creator, the designer Thomas Heatherwick, resisted the temptation to join the global cauldron race, opting for grace and originality over sheer bulk.

The 8.5-metre-tall cauldron, which was crafted in a workshop in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, was intended to stand apart from the fiery troughs that had come before it.

"We were aware cauldrons had been getting bigger, higher, fatter as each Olympics happened and we felt we shouldn't try to be even bigger than the last ones," he said. Betty's design, Heatherwick added, had also allowed the organisers to stress the diverse but united spirit of the Games.

"This incredible event has 204 nations coming together, so we had a child from each country bringing these copper polished objects in."

However, despite all the thought and planning, the drilling and the secret rehearsals, Betty was not without her last-minute troubles.

According to Heatherwick, the cauldron failed on one of its final test sessions when one of the stainless steel rods holding the burning petals became jammed in the early hours of Thursday.

"We had been perfecting it throughout the week," he told the Sun.

"At the last test session a pin on which one of the petals pivoted had not been put in right."

The 42-year-old designer said his team did not let him know about the glitch, but worked desperately to fix it before Betty became Friday night's showpiece.

"On the night I was watching in silence, staring, not aware of anything around me and gripping the bars in front – 'What's going to happen, what's going to happen?'" said Heatherwick.

"When it worked there was an outpouring of relief.

"It really would have been a head-in-your-hands moment if it had not happened on the night."

Equally important to the success of Friday night – and every bit as secretive as Heatherwick's team – were the seven young athletes who confounded bookmakers and journalists by being the ones to light Betty.

Speculation that Sir Roger Bannister, the Queen or even Doctor Who would perform the deed proved unfounded as the seven did the honours, having been nominated by some of Britain's most famous Olympians.

Several of them said they had been sworn to such secrecy that they did not even tell their parents.

"The easiest thing was not being able to talk to anybody," said 18-year-old Jordan Duckitt. "Otherwise I would've let something slip."

Duckitt, who was chairman of the London 2012 young ambassador steering group for two years and was nominated by Duncan Goodhew, told BBC Radio Lincolnshire that he had got the call asking him to be part of the finale eight days before the opening ceremony.

He had been due to go on holiday with his parents, he said, but had to cancel everything. Unaware of his starring role, the family went away anyway.

Aidan Reynolds, a budding javelin star and the personal pick of the former Team GB captain Lynn Davies, also kept schtum about his role.

The youngsters' moment of glory came at the expense of Sir Steve Redgrave, who had been favourite to light the cauldron, but who instead passed the torch to them inside the stadium.

On Sunday, he admitted that he was "a little disappointed" that he was not the one to put flame to cauldron.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Redgrave said being the last Olympian to carry the torch had been a great honour.

But he added: "Of course, looking back, I must admit that when I was told it would not be me lighting the flame at the opening ceremony, I was a little disappointed.

"It was not a question of arrogance. It was about the expectation of everybody I knew, who kept saying that it had to be me when I knew deep down that it was not going to happen."

He had been called around two-and-a-half weeks before and given a rough idea of what would happen, he said.

"As an extremely competitive individual with an ego, there is a part of me that would love to have lit the flame.

"I never had any problem with the seven youngsters taking the torch, because it was a genuinely humbling spectacle. But it was the expectations of others that I found difficult."

Fittingly for the man who took his Slumdog Millionaire Oscar to his father's working men's club in Bury, Danny Boyle also appears to be his usual modest self.

Two days after his directorial triumph, he cemented his status as Britain's latest national treasure by being snapped queueing for sausage and mash like any other Olympic visitor.

As for Betty, she will suffer the fate of all flowers when the games end.

Having bloomed so brightly and so perfectly, she will lose her blackened petals as, one by one, they are borne home by the 204 countries that carried them into the stadium on Friday night.


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July 28 2012

London 2012: Olympic cauldron petals to be given to competing nations

• 204 copper petals make up the Olympic cauldron
• Competing nations will be allowed to take them home

The Olympic cauldron will be dismantled during the London 2012 closing ceremony and each of the 204 copper "petals" that make it work will be given to the competing nations to take home.

Thomas Heatherwick, the cauldron's designer, said he had not wanted to try to make it bigger or taller than those at previous Games, and had focused instead on the symbolic meaning. "We were aware cauldrons had been getting bigger, higher, fatter as each Olympics happened and we felt we shouldn't try to be even bigger than the last ones," he said.

"This incredible event has 204 nations coming together, so we had a child from each country bringing these copper polished objects in. At the end of the Games this cauldron will dismantle itself and radiate back down to the ground and each of those copper pieces will be taken away by each nation."

While the Games is ongoing the cauldron will be moved to the side of the stadium to allow for track and field competitions. Heatherwick said the new location is a nod to the 1948 Olympics and the place where the cauldron stood in the old Wembley stadium.

The decision not to place the structure above the stadium, though, means tens of thousands of paying Olympic Park visitors will be unable to see one of the key features.

The International Olympic Committee said it was up to the Games organisers to choose the location. "We allow people to have the cauldron where they want to," said the IOC spokesman Mark Adams. "London Games organisers did not want to compete with other cauldrons. We are fully supportive of that."


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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