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Olympic architect's humble beginnings at Littlehampton cafe
Even the most successful designers have to start somewhere – and for the architect behind the Olympic cauldron that journey began in Sussex.
Thomas Heatherwick’s structure has won plaudits worldwide for its elegance, beauty and symbolism.
The London-born artist is now the most sought-after designer around.
But the 42-year-old wasn’t always as popular.
Back in the mid-2000s he had a couple of sculptures to his name but was yet to be commissioned for a major project.
Meanwhile Littlehampton architecture enthusiast Jane Wood was looking to open a cafe.
She said: “I had seen his genius early on and knew he would do a great job on the cafe.
“I think it’s important that we have fantastic buildings outside London and especially down here on the south coast.”
Mr Heatherwick got to work on something striking for the coastal town and in 2006 the East Beach Cafe was opened.
Ms Wood added: “People love it. It was quite controversial but the project really kick-started a cultural renaissance in the town, with the likes of the Longest Bench by Studio Weave and now the Stage by the Sea.”
Following the opening, the work started pouring in for Mr Heatherwick and two years ago he received a call from Games bosses asking him to come up with a design for the Olympic cauldron.
From a studio in Harrogate he created the striking structure, made up of metal poles holding 204 metal petals representing each participating country.
On Friday, July 27, seven aspiring athletes lit the symbolic petals and the structure came together to present the 2012 Olympic Cauldron.
Ben Luke from the Evening Standard described it as a “stirring tribute to the human spirit”, with Sarah Crompton of the Daily Telegraph calling it an “idea of genius”.
Ms Wood added: “I knew it would be spectacular but wow – it’s incredible, everyone loves it.
“I met him a few times in the run-up to the opening ceremony but he couldn’t tell me anything about the design. It was a fantastic design.”
But it’s not just Heatherwick who has been given a helping hand by the Littlehampton restaurateur.
Asif Khan, who she chose to create her West Beach Cafe, was picked to design the Coca-Cola Pavilion in the Olympic Park.
With it already being dubbed the “mini-Bird’s Nest”, Khan is set to join Heatherwick at the top table of British designers.
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