‘We never accused Heatherwick of copying’, says studio in Olympic Cauldron row

The design studio at the centre of the London 2021 Olympic Cauldron row says it never accused Cauldron designer Thomas Heatherwick of copying its designs.

Thomas Heatherwick's Olympic Cauldron

Source: Ceremonies Explorer

Thomas Heatherwick’s Olympic Cauldron

New York studio Atopia found itself at the centre of the controversy last week after the Guardian reported its claims that it designed a structure of objects on tall stems – strikingly similar to Heatherwick’s Cauldron – in 2007, and submitted the designs to the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games.

Heatherwick reacted quickly to deny any intimation of copying, saying that any suggstions that he or Locog had implemented a pre-existing idea were ‘ludicrous’.

Now Atopia has moved to defuse the row, saying ‘We have never accused Thomas Heatherwick of plagiarism [and] we have never claimed to be designers of the Cauldron.’

Instead, Atopia says it is ‘entirely focused on the issue of how ideas transmit through large organisations’.

Atopia chief executive Jane Harrison says the consultancy did not show images of its concept in its presentation to Locog, only the script, which focused on the concept of constructing a pavilion from ‘umbrellas’ carried into the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony by a representative of each participating team.

She told Design Week, ‘This is not about images, this is about the power of a script that was protected by an NDA.’ She says the concept was presented to Locog in 2008 and was ‘well known’ to Locog leadership from then on.

The Atopia statement continues, ‘The issue for us is not about the object, nor is it about Heatherwick’s design. It does bear a striking resemblance to our project work and sketchbook from 2008 and as such this has been the point of focus for the press.

‘But for us right now this is not the point. It is the written narrative that we are concerned with as this is the key component in the way we work.

‘It is the narrative scenario along with our other tender content that we do believe proved inspirational to Locog and this is what it was intended to do. We have sought a formal acknowledgement for this from Locog since July 2012.’

Martin Green, former head of ceremonies for London 2012, has said, ‘Neither [Atopia’s images] nor any other images or presentations played any part in the briefing I gave to [Opening Ceremony artistic director] Danny Boyle and Thomas Heatherwick at the beginning of the process to create the Olympic and Paralympic Cauldron.

‘The design for the cauldron came about solely from the creative conversations between Danny, Thomas and myself.’

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  • Mark Magidson November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    My main concern is not only over the quantity of itemised free creative work requested in many design tenders but also about protecting the designers IPR (never built into any brief that I have seen) – hence a suggestion of including into client the briefs…

    “Creative suggestions on your reaction to the brief are welcome. The IPR to these will remain with the designer and not be shown to any other contractors”.

  • Colin Carswell November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    As a designer who works in this field i Canot agree more with you Mark, design proposals at tender stage are done with the goal of wining the contract, yet more and more detail is sought for these submissions, all free of charge.In essence we as designers are producing concepts for free and have no ownership of them once they have been submitted.

  • Maxine Horn November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I agree with Mark and Colin except that you do have rights to work submitted, whether written or visual, if they are executed ideas (unregistered copyright) or if they are protected under the Creative Barcode digital IP system and trust charter – which includes protection of the core ideas.

    The biggers issues are that designers, in general, do not take responsibility for communicating their IP terms and often make assumptions or simply hold a negative view of IP due to complexity or fear

    IP can be very positive for both parties – and the Creative Barcode system firstly guantees to the receiving party (the client) that your submissions have provenance, orginality and are yours to submit. The receiving party warrants not to use any part of your submission without your permission.

    Simple – and it’s a system operated in 29 Countries that has never been breeched.

    Remarkably it was created by UK designers and innovators specifically to protect designers entering pitches, tenders and open innovation challenges in the digital age.

    There are regular IP events for designers that are informational not complex – so if you’d like to know dates, get in touch.

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