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Lee Valley Athletics Centre, London, United Kingdom

Monday 10 Jan 2011

Sprinting to the top

Morley von Sternburg | David Morley Architects 
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Athletics centre employs innovative techniques to make it a winning piece of architecture 

In 2002, Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, with the support of UK Athletics and Sport England, proposed a High Performance Centre for athletics at Picketts Lock. The vision for the centre was to provide a regional training centre as part of a national facilities programme to improve the performance of elite athletes, support to clubs that develop young talent and use by schools to increase awareness and inspire children.

The facility was required to be technically excellent and cater for this broad range of users in an inspiring environment that enhanced its surroundings and achieved high environmental standards for a modest budget; all on a brownfield site. The resulting facility designed by David Morley Architects has succeeded, if not exceeded, the clients requirements, and the architects remain in regular contact with the client team and those that use the building to understand how it is measuring up to pre-opening targets, assisting with fine-tuning to optimise performance in use, and most recently implementing a package of additions that reflect new thinking in elite sport developed since the centre was conceived.

The detailed brief for the development was initially set out in the 'Preliminary Project Details' issued by Drivers Jonas in October 2002. During June 2003 meetings were held with UK Athletics, Sport England and Lee Valley Regional Park Authority to agree the outline brief.

The following brief requirements were the main drivers for the design: key relationships between the High Performance Centre, outdoor track and existing facilities at Picketts Lock; minimum impact on the existing income generating facilities at Picketts Lock; opportunities for future development on the Picketts Lock site; a 200 m indoor athletics track with permanent banking and a separate sprint track; changing accommodation and support facilities; a range of conditioning facilities; spectator seating for 500 (indoor), and an external 400 m athletics track.

Whilst primarily intended for the training and development of elite athletes on UK Athletics’ World Class Programme the £16 million centre is also home to the Enfield & Haringey Athletics Club and serves the regional and local communities, encouraging and inspiring participation in athletics. By having every level of skill train in the same environment the centre hopes to encourage and inspire participation in athletics.

The building incorporates a 200 m indoor athletics track with permanent banking and a first floor sprint track with changing rooms and support facilities below. The Centre is a key training facility for the London 2012 Olympic Games, and forms part of UK Athletics’ long term vision for athletics development in London and the South East and is part of the English Institute of Sport (EIS) network.

The development enhances the special qualities of the site at Pickett’s Lock and reflects the sustainability objectives of the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority. An efficient roof form has been developed that minimises the span, increases the structural efficiency and allows the integration of environmental control systems that optimize the use of natural resources.

The entire building is naturally lit and ventilated through an array of asymmetric arched trusses supported and stabilized by clusters of raking steel columns. Full accessibility for wheelchair users is provided by a network of slopes eliminating the need for lifts in this multi-storey building.

The entrance to the building is located towards the southern end to provide access to both the HPC and the outdoor track. Clustered in this area are the café, offices/seminar space and club room with the intention for possible shared use of the larger spaces to provide flexibility for spectator refreshment facilities. The ancillary facilities are arranged in line below the first floor sprint track with the most public facilities (changing rooms) being nearer the entrance and linked by an open circulation corridor. Spectator seating to the 200 m track is also accessed from this circulation.

The more highly serviced area of strength and conditioning required a higher ceiling to allow for weights being lifted above people’s heads. In order to keep the building height to a minimum, this floor level is lowered. Some of the ancillary facilities are screened from the athletics area whist the strength and conditioning area has a glazed partition to allow a visual link between the two.

The 132 m sprint track above the ancillary spaces is reached via a long ramp spanning between the structure, so that both able bodied and disabled people access this facility together. In addition, the scissor arrangement of sloped access routes replaces the need for lifts – this is much better for wheelchair sports events and adds to the dynamic three dimensional quality of the interior.

The athletic specific facilities at ground floor level have been arranged around the dominant 200 m track. The positioning of the track towards the northern end of the building allows the throws to be located near the open space at the east of the site so that throwing indoors and outdoors is possible through opening doors. Storage for equipment is envisaged to be behind a secure enclosure but open to the facility.

The final location of these can be adjusted to suit the equipment when confirmed. A first floor sprint track with changing rooms and support facilities below also minimises the land taken up by the building, leaving more space left over for the surrounding park. The building form comprises asymmetrical arches that span between a low point to one side of the 200 m track to a high point above the pole vault area.

The profile of the underside of the arches extends across a two-storey section of building incorporating the 100 m straight above the ancillary accommodation. This gives an uncluttered appearance of a continuous soffit above all of the sports areas.

A raking strut reduces the span of the arch and provides lateral stability to the structure. An efficient roof form was developed that minimised the span, increased the structural efficiency and allows the integration of environmental control systems that optimise the use of natural resources. The external areas and fully glazed end walls adjoining the new building and outdoor sports track and facilities are designed to maximise public views into and through the building and to and make a strong visual link between the inside and outside facilities, this level of ‘open plan’ sport is intended to foster inspiration from one athlete to the next.

This also helps to integrate the new development within the existing site structure, and to provide clear routes and spaces for users, visitors and spectators. Taking the key points from the original brief, the theme of integration runs through many aspects of this project: linking indoor and outdoor facilities; serving elite athletes as well as club and local community; a dynamic building form that merges with the green belt; using the same components to maximise structural efficiency and low energy issues, and making a functional and accessible plan into an uplifting and dynamic environment to encourage participation in sport.

"When I became Chief Executive of UK Athletics in 1997, I recognised that the UK was also lacking the necessary facilities network to remain a world class athletics nation, and thus I instigated an £80m programme of facilities development. The landmark facility in this network was the Lee Valley Athletics Centre, and since it opened in 2005, it has helped the training of Olympic and World Gold Medallists,” David Moorcroft OBE.

“In our sport, the three things you need most as an athlete in order to be successful are the right coach, the right environment and the right medical support – you will find all three at Lee Valley,” Charles van Commenee, Head Coach, UKA.

“The centre is a hub of professionalism. We have everything here that we could possibly ask for – physiotherapists, nutritionalists, physiologists. I can come here, spend the day and get so much done. It has made life a lot easier and made me work a lot harder. I also recover much more quickly because everything is so close together, I’ve got every single support service I need coming out of one place,” Jeanette Kwakye, World Indoor 60 m silver medalist and Olympic 100m finalist.

Lee Valley Athletics Centre received an AWARDS Commendation in the Best Built Project category at the 2008 London Planning Awards, and was the winner of the RICS Awards 2010 for Sustainability.


The building and landscape were designed to provide habitats that enhance the existing area as well as a new habitat, where the building was able to do more than landscape alone could provide. An area of the roof, for example, was developed to accept ‘brown material’ (crushed stone etc) that provides a safe area for foraging by black red-start. The siting of the new building, linked with the outdoor track and facilities, released the site of the previous leisure centre, which was returned to a new green space opening on to the surrounding greenbelt land. Communities’ use of the building has exceeded targets resulting in an increase in hours for use year on year.


The building main hall is ventilated without the need for fans normally used to draw out hot and stale air. Through careful engineering these were replaced with opening windows in the northlights. Opening windows are positioned at the highest point, where they are most effective. This places them over the non-performance areas, avoiding risk of water on the surface. External canopies further reduce risk of water ingress and provide a recognisable feature on the buildings elevation. The main athletics hall is an elegant design that has a high standard of environmental engineering to reduce its overall energy demand and optimise performance. The roof is designed to minimise the appearance of the height and bulk of the building and comprises 12 single span arches which incorporate full width north lights which provide both natural light and ventilation to the main hall. The fully glazed end walls add natural light and allow the public to look in from the outside and make a strong visual link between the inside and outside facilities. This level of ‘open plan’ sport is intended to foster inspiration from one athlete to the next. The scissor arrangement of sloped access routes replaces the need for lifts – this is much better for wheelchair sports events and adds to the dynamic three dimensional quality of the interior making it fully accessible. The LVAC is of low energy design. Using the orientation of the structure, north lighting allows the facility to be evenly lit throughout daylight hours without turning on any artificial lights, which saves energy and makes for a more enjoyable space. The 200 m track is cut into to the ground, reducing the building height by approximately 1.3 m, and eliminates unsightly guardrails to create a clean, uncluttered interior. We understand that this is a first in the UK. The external track surface is made from rubber from recycled lorry tyres.


The Centre has become increasingly popular as a location for film shoots and coverage during the year has included pieces filmed for the Apprentice, the Gadget Show, Guinness book of Records and Food Fight with Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey. This raises awareness in new and surprising ways.


The Centre has been awarded an 'A' certificate for its energy performance, rating it in the top band for buildings in the UK, and won the Sustainability category at the RICS Awards 2010. The building form and fabric are designed to provide excellent resistance to heat loss and solar heat gain, and to provide high quality ventilation and daylighting. Key points: low energy design – the orientation of the structure defines north lights which allows the facility to be evenly lit throughout daylight hours without turning on any artificial lights – this saves energy and makes a more enjoyable space; low energy design – other key measures include natural ventilation extract from the apex of the asymmetric arch so there are no extract fans or ducts; provision for the future use of photo-voltaics; the use of high thermal mass walls and roof to help keep the athletes cooler on hot days; other key environmental issues – regeneration of a brown field site and enhanced landscape. To make the building achieve higher standards of environmental design, a number of energy saving measures were included within the design. They are as follows: natural ventilation wherever possible; daylighting wherever possible; daylighting controls - to switch off or dim lights when there is sufficient natural daylight during the day to reduce the electricity used in lighting; ancillary spaces such as changing rooms and WCs are fitted with presence detectors to control the light switching; the building has a highly insulated building fabric; low level water consumption is achieved through the use of water saving appliances such as low flush cisterns, timed spray taps for hand washing, showers, and infra-red electronic urinal flushing; high efficiency low NOx condensing gas boilers are installed which offer the lowest levels of pollution in terms of local flue gas and CO2 emissions; all the heating and hot water pipework including valves is thermally insulated; the heating systems are divided into zones to reduce unnecessary heating of unoccupied areas; presence sensors are used to control extract fans in toilets; solar shading protection is provided to prevent overheating in summer; collection and re-use of rainwater on site for non-potable applications such as toilet flushing and irrigation. The amount of rain collected over the year comfortably supplies the water demand for toilet flushing and irrigation, which saves thousands of pounds each year in water charges, and also makes a statement to the community about the centre’s commitment to conserving natural resources. The original design also allowed for future adaptability. Additional features which could be included with the building at some time in the future include: wind turbines; thin film solar tiles placed at an optimum angle on the roof for conversion of solar energy to electrical energy for use in the building; solar hot water generation; collection and reuse of rainwater on site for non-potable applications such as toilet flushing and irrigation. The amount of rain collected over the year would comfortably supply the water demands for toilet flushing and irrigation, which would save thousands of pounds each year in water charges and also make a statement to the community about the centre’s commitment to conserving natural resources.


The Lee Valley Athletics Centre has become increasingly popular for events since opening, especially during the summer season (the winter season has been more or less at capacity since opening). The Centre hosted the South of England Indoor Championships and the British Masters Championships in 2009-10. In addition, the Centre now hosts borough Championships for Enfield, Waltham Forest and Lee Valley (Broxbourne and Cheshunt area) on the outdoor track along with borough Championships for Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets, Haringey and Hackney Schools on the indoor track. Enfield and Haringey athletics club has increased its use of facilities on club nights whilst groups for athletes with disabilities are now also based at the Centre on Sunday mornings. The Centre’s programme of activities has also extended during the past year. New additions have included new inter-school cross country competitions organised in co-operation with the adjacent golf course, and indoor and outdoor competitions developed for schools. Overall use since opening continues to grow, and the Centre is now running to capacity at busy times of the week. In response, the Centre will be extending its opening hours from 76 – 88 per week from April 2010 to accommodate the demand. In addition, elite use of the centre has increased with more athletes and their coaches basing themselves around the centre. The Centre has also continued to improve its facilites in response to customer demand. Improvements during 2009-10 have included the following: new off-road trail around the Centre’s perimeter providing an alternative surface for running on; hurdles stores on sprint track converted to spectator viewing areas; new automatic sliding doors fitted on route to outdoor track; new recovery facilities; new designated area for specialist exercise equipment; additional coaching, administration, athletes lounge and rest area (2011), reflecting the Centre's increased position in the national network of facilities and current thinking in sports development.

Key Facts

Status Completed
Value 0(m€)
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David Morley Architects

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