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Making a Splash at Olympics

Games: Universal City's Wet Design, noted for the Bellagio fountains, is creator of the $2-million water-cooled caldron holding the torch.

January 21, 2002|LAURA LOH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The 12-foot-tall glass caldron that will cradle the Olympic flame for the duration of the Winter Games in Salt Lake City next month is the brainchild of Universal City-based Wet Design, a firm whose portfolio includes the operatic fountains at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas.

The torch relay that has been touring the country will end when the flame lights the $2-million caldron at the Feb. 8 opening ceremony for the Games at University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium.

Designer Tim Hunter said the caldron's angular design was inspired by the jagged mountain peaks that surround the city. "There are no right angles on this thing at all," Hunter said.

Perched atop a 120-foot steel tower is the chalice that will hold the flame. It is a hollow, inverted pyramid made from a glass-ceramic hybrid that can withstand temperatures of up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit. Water, the medium that is Wet's specialty, will run along the inside of the caldron, cooling the transparent glass and preventing soot buildup.

"For the first time, you'll be able to see the full fire expression, rather than just the flame at the top edge" of the caldron, said Mark Fuller, Wet's founder and chief executive. The firm's design was chosen over three others, the Olympic organizing committee said.

Founded in 1983, Wet has a team of about 90 designers, engineers and support staff. Company sales last year totaled $12 million, Fuller said. The company's best-known work is Bellagio's 8-acre lake, which boasts choreographed 200-foot-high sprays of water powered by compressed air.

The firm has done work in Europe, Mexico, Asia and the Middle East and is collaborating with architect I.M. Pei on new headquarters for the International Monetary Fund in Washington. Locally, the firm has created designs for Universal CityWalk, the Los Angeles Music Center and the Gas Co. Tower.

Wet's fountain designs range from the sophisticated to the simple, such as the pulses of water that shoot up from the ground at CityWalk, entertaining and cooling off children on summer days.

"We work expressively with the water itself. We don't do a traditional structure or something and then gush water over it," Fuller said.

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