WAN visits London’s new not-so-secret garden to survey the Olympic progress
Last week Open-City organised a press trip of the Olympic Park as part of their Open House London event – making fascinating architecture accessible to the people of London. Naturally WAN went along for the ride...
Firstly it must be said that the speed of construction is phenomenal, with all major structures going up at a rate to rival the Shard. Whilst the Olympic Park as a whole is still a vast construction site – and hence rather unattractive as a whole – key venues seems to be springing up at every turn. Despite our guide’s assurance that the Olympic Stadium offers a temporary capacity equal to the Beijing Bird’s Nest, from the exterior it appears disappointingly small. The deceptive design seamlessly incorporates a reused gas pipe – an inventive example of the consistent use of recycled materials on the Olympic site. Much of the exterior construction of the stadium is now in place, with work currently focussing on internal fit-out – a black and white seating arrangement designed by Populous to reflect the burst of energy from the 2012 logo. It is thought work on the stadium will be completed in early 2011.
Much has been made of the site’s transformation from an area of industrial dereliction to what is hoped will be a vibrant natural plaza. The images to the left illustrate how much of this shift is currently in progress – still largely muddy in texture but with an array of wild shrubs sprouting along the water’s edge and plans for 4,000 trees to be planted imminently. In a slightly more sheltered area between the Olympic Stadium and the Zaha Hadid’s famous Aquatic Centre is a mass of golden wildflowers which inject some much needed colour into the currently rather bland Olympic palette.
Next stop is the Basketball Arena - a bubbling temporary form that remains remarkably true to Wilkinson Eyre’s original proposal. The sprawling rectangular space was deemed redundant in the longer term due to the high number of similarly sized sports venues across the city; henceforth the entire structure has been designed to be taken apart and reused elsewhere post-Games. Sitting opposite the somewhat imposing Athletes Village, the area around the Basketball Arena borders that of the Velodrome.
Undeniably elegant, the Velodrome is fast taking shape. With the double-curvature roof now secure, work has shifted to attaching the sophisticated timber cladding to the sweeping external facade. Like many venues on the Olympic site – and similar in design to MAKE’s Handball Arena – the roof of the Velodrome rides over a core podium, billowing out into two heavily protruding apexes. Combined with a BMX track, one mile cycle route and six km mountain biking track, the Olympic Park will retain its cycling facilities in legacy after the Games and will be open to the public on a daily basis.
It is impossible to discuss the Olympic Park without touching on the Aquatics Centre. Its superb flowing roof fails to disappoint, even at this early stage of construction. Gliding like some majestic sea-creature through the gritty building site that is the Olympic Park, Hadid’s design drew murmurs of astonishment from all those on the tour. Whilst the wow-factor of the structure is certainly intact at this point, it is hard to image how this will be retained once the temporary seating stands are rolled into place. When compared to the original renderings it becomes apparent that the curvature of the roof in practice doesn’t match the initial designs, spurring concerns that the highly-anticipated Aquatics Centre may fail to live up to the high expectations of an international audience.
It may be under daily scrutiny by the British and international press, but the outline of the Olympic Park is fast taking shape. At this point, all major venues are maturing well under construction and once the greenery begins to flourish, filling in the gaps with a splash of colour, the undeniable magic of the Olympic Games should begin to shine through. Will London be able to maintain such a rapid speed of construction? We’ll keep you posted...