“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.” These are the words of Thomas Heatherwick whose concept for the cauldron for the 2012 London Olympic Games Opening Ceremony burst into life this weekend in front of 80,000 spectators at the Populous-designed Olympic Stadium and an estimated one billion people around the world.
The world has since been ablaze with praise for Heatherwick Studio, its gloriously elegant design being described as ‘imaginative and ambitious’ and ‘the most complicated cauldron ever built’ by London paper The Evening Standard. Credit must also be given to Australian firm FCT Flames who leant their expertise to the project and oversaw the manufacture of Heatherwick’s concept. Watch a short explanatory film from FCT Flames here.
A total of 204 gleaming copper petals were brought into the stadium in the arms of children with each competing nation, inscribed with the name of the country or region. These were then connected to levered stems through which natural gas was pumped before being lit by seven young athletes. Once each of the petals on the ten rings was alight, the stems began to rise causing the ‘flower’ to close. The result was a flaming beacon in the centre of the Olympic Stadium causing an audible intake of breath from the onlookers.
Heatherwick continued: “There is a precedent of the 1948 Games of the cauldron set within the stadium, to one side with the spectators, and with the technology we now have that didn’t exist in 1948 it can be shared with everyone in the Olympic Park with screens. We felt that sharing it with screens reinforced the intimacy within it, if it had been a huge beacon lifted up in the air it would have had to be bigger, and would have somehow not met the brief that we discussed with Danny Boyle [Director of the Opening Ceremony] of making something that was rooted in where the people are.”
Over the weekend the cauldron was moved to the south end of the stadium where it will remain for the duration of the London Olympic Games. Once the Games come to a close, the cauldron will be dismantled and the petals will return home with each competing nation, leaving only the basic stems and base. Fans of Heatherwick’s creative ingenuity will recognise this approach from his celebrated Seed Pavilion for the 2010 Shanghai Expo. In this dandelion-esque form, designer Heatherwick constructed a bulb of 60,000 7.5m acrylic rods with a variety of UK-native seeds encased in each. After the Expo, the pavilion was dismantled and the rods distributed to schools across China as educational tools.
The Olympic Games have proven to be a highly effective platform for UK-based architecture and design studios to showcase their originality and skill, with young practices such as Pernilla & Asif and Magma Architecture taking advantage of the opportunity. Heatherwick Studio is already an established design practice in London (Heatherwick himself is not a registered architect) but the dazzling design of the Olympic Cauldron for the London 2012 Games has cemented the brilliance of this burgeoning local studio.