Thomas Heatherwick's multi-pronged cauldron for the 2012 London Olympics.
Courtesy BBC News Thomas Heatherwick's multi-pronged cauldron for the 2012 London Olympics.
Olympic 2012 Cauldron, elevation.
Courtesy Heatherwick Studio Olympic 2012 Cauldron, elevation.

The Olympic cauldron unveiled Friday night in London marks a striking departure from past designs, suggesting a new form of collective representation. The installation bears the strong fingerprints of its designer Thomas Heatherwick, the British architect whose Seed Cathedral at the Shanghai Expo 2010 and Bang project at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester both employ a multitude of cylindrical units that radiate from a central point to create visually striking monuments.

The notion of a central feature composed by the aggregation of many parts is particularly applicable to this year's Olympic Games, whose planning committee sought to elevate the sense of collective participation compared with past events. The featuring of the hundreds of construction workers who built the Olympic park during the opening ceremonies, for example—or the delivery of the Olympic flame by a group of young athletes instead of one celebrity—are examples that demonstrate attempts to create an atmosphere of inclusion.

Heatherwick's cauldron brilliantly captures and exudes this collective atmosphere, not only in its assemblage of individual copper braziers that each symbolize a participating country, but also in its placement at the bottom and center of the Olympic stadium—rather than a more remote location on a high pedestal. "We wanted to keep it sitting with the spectators,'' said Heatherwick.

After the 2012 Summer Olympics have concluded, the cauldron will be dismantled and each paticipating nation's team will return home with a single copper petal as an enduring reminder of the games. Thus, rather than be thrown out or remain solely within the home country as in past Olympics, the material reality of this cauldron will live on in the form of 204 prized mementos. "Everyone has a piece in the end," Heatherwick told USA Today.