Burned by the Olympic torch

February 13, 2010

I’m not meaning to pile on but the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics were hardly a pinnacle of design. And I’m not even talking about the US uniforms with their positively colossal Polo logo. That was subtle wasn’t it?

US uniform closing ceremony2

For starters there was the hideous Olympic torch… apparently designed as a partnership by the Canadian aerospace and transportation company Bombardier in collaboration with the Vancouver Organizing Committee.

Vancouver 2010 Torch

I’m quoting from the official press release here: The almost one-metre-long torch, inspired by both the lines carved into the snow by skiers schushing down mountains and the undulating beauty of the snowy Canadian landscape. Huh?

It's a pretty uninspired and odd-looking device--sort of like a cross between a flaming toothbrush handle and a presentation-scale butter knife.

Now we’ve done a few design projects involving flame here at Design Concepts and fire is inarguably tricky as a design element. Its appeal is inherently primal which probably runs in a bit of conflict with the intended majesty of the Olympics. And I’m wondering if the “designed in collaboration with the Organizing Committee” provides some insight into a group design process that lead to what, for me, is a pretty uninspired and frankly sort of odd looking device. Sort of like a cross between a flaming toothbrush handle and a presentation-scale butter knife. Oh well. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In my opinion it was a sorry follow up to the Beijing torch that somehow managed to capture the sprit and culture of the host country in a far more elegant and – let’s be honest here – more attractive manner.


Finally there was the embarrassing malfunction of the pillar apparatus. If you didn’t see it, the design intent was for the Olympic caldron to rise spectacularly out of the stadium floor in conjunction with four massive pillars that would feed the flame up from the torch-bearers. Except one of the pillars remained recalcitrantly stuck. Hyraulics problems apparently. Darn. An obviously uncomfortable Wayne Gretsky fidgeted while holding his ugly torch while NBC’s Bob Costas improvised his coverage. I suspect that one had to leave a few marks.

Ever so often I lament instances where designers and engineers remain as unsung, unrecognized bit players in the tapestry of our lives. Well this is one instance where I’m pretty certain there were a couple of engineers wanting to crawl into a hole and just as pleased to not be in the spotlight.