Home Court Advantage: The Olympic Torch and Velodrome Take the Gold in London Design Museum's Annual Awards

The London 2012 Olympic Torch, designed by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby
(Courtesy Design Museum, London)

Months ahead of the start of the games, the London Design Museum is already showing symptoms of Olympics fever. Adding to the fanfare surrounding the upcoming global sports competition, the institution announced yesterday its Design of the Year Award winners: Hopkins Architects’ Olympic Velodrome for Architecture and the Olympic Torch for overall design.

Like the Jamaican bobsled team competing in Calgary's 1988 Olympics, the Olympic Torch design by London-based Barber Osgerby faced stiff competition. There was Zaha Hadid’s other-worldly Guangzhou Opera House and the fairy-tale-worthy Alexander McQueen Royal Wedding Dress by Sarah Burton. There was Ron Arad’s extra-terrestrially hip eyewear collection for PQ, and there was even a table made of moon rocks by Bethan Laura Wood.

Unlike the inspiration for "Cool Runnings," however, the torch beat the odds and took the grand prize. The torch itself is no real looker; when the Telegraph asked its readers what the torch most resembled in June, about 38 percent of them answered "Olympic torch," second to the most popular response, "cheese grater" (thanks in no small part to the 8,000 circular perforations on its surface). What the torch lacks in aesthetics, however, it makes up for in symbolism and ingenuity. Built from an aerospace-grade aluminum alloy, the lightest Olympic torch ever can withstand high altitudes, sub-zero temperatures, and high winds (all of which are likely weather scenarios during a summer in London). The laser-cut perforations represent the 8,000 Olympians who will descend upon the British capital this summer. They also render the torch transparent so the flame can be seen through its shell, while lending the design a lightness its bearers will appreciate. The trilateral shape represents London's third round as Olympic host city.

The other winners served as a walk down memory lane, reminding us of the gems that emerged from 2011's year in design. Issey Miyake's origami-inspired "132.5" collection took the award for fashion, beating out both Burton and the blockbuster Met McQueen exhibition "Savage Beauty." The Royal College of Art's ambulance redesign won for transport (likewise a compliment to Nissan’s Taxi Cab of Tomorrow, right?), and it was a big win for Hopkins' gracefully parabolic Velodrome, which beat out the likes of Hadid, Foster + Partners, and OMA. The stadium was a favorite for 2011's Sterling Prize, snubbed in favor of Hadid's Evelyn Grace Academy, which in turn won ARTINFO's 2011 prize of upset of the year.  

To see the winners of the London Design Museum’s Designs of the Year awards, click the slide show