Designing the Olympic torch a chance of a lifetime

Tim Fagan was working at his dream job as a senior designer for Bombardier Aerospace when he was approached to design the 2010 Olympic torch for the Vancouver Games.

“This was a once in a lifetime chance,” says the Carleton alumnus, who graduated from the School of Industrial Design in 1999. “There’s no blueprint on how to do something like this. You try to hone in on the million ideas coming into your head. You want to make sure you do it justice and that you’ve considered all the aspects.”

Fagan and his design team worked steadily for almost four months to come up with the initial concept of the shape, the colours of the torch and the burner system for the flame.

The long and slender white and stainless steel torch, nearly a meter long, is based on two main inspirational ideas: the sweeping, undulating, white winter Canadian landscape and elements of winter sports.

“We wanted it to be accessible to all Canadians but there are a lot of aspects to consider. We had to balance the technical aspects of the burner components, the fuel, the weight, the materials and so on, with the artistic side to make something visually striking.”

The two white shells on the torch are inspired by the light and shadow in a bank of drifting snow, while the stainless steel picks up the sporting element — the edge of a skate or a ski — as a nod to the athletes.

Instead of a typical bowl shape, a long vertical outlet protects the flame, which emerges as the torch is carried forward, unfurling like a flag.

Fagan started designing aircraft interiors at Bombardier Aerospace in Toronto the summer after he graduated from Carleton.

“This was a fantastic job for me. After graduation, I had this toolbox of skills I could apply to a huge number of possible fields but I always had an interest in aircraft, so it was a great fit.”

Five years later, he moved to Montreal, where he worked with an advanced research and development group that designs aircraft interior environments and components. Fagan’s team and a similar industrial design team from Bombardier Transportation were pulled together to work secretly on the Olympic torch in late 2007.

“One of the Carleton School of Design’s strengths is its well-rounded, problem-solving approach to design. I was definitely able to use this broad skill set of the artistic and the engineering sides and how they all fit together and apply it to this project.”

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Susan Hickman

By Susan Hickman

For nearly four decades, journalist Susan Hickman has written about every imaginable subject for sundry newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad, as well as for CBC TV and CBC Radio. She has also managed various publications, including academic newspapers and technology magazines, and was recently commissioned to write a guide for foreign missions serving in Canada. Currently, she is working on a couple of personal memoirs.

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