At the centre of all media attention is the Olympic Stadium, which is set to hold the Athletics and Paralympics Athletics in summer 2012. Located south of the Olympic Park, the permanent structure will seat a staggering 80,000 spectators, whist the canny design means that post-Olympics, 55,000 of these seats can be whisked out to provide a much smaller, more intimate venue. The brains behind this proposal are the global design firm Populous, formerly HOK Sport. Plans show that the Olympic Stadium will boast a 20m high ‘wrap’, which will encircle the stadium’s upper tier (the section that will be dismantled at the end of the games) to shade, protect and support the 108,500 sq. m. structure. The stadium itself will be surrounded by waterways on three sides, with access provided via five new bridges, built especially as part of the London 2012 project. With more than 30 previous buildings being demolished to make space for this vast stadium, there is ever-mounting pressure for the structure to be completed on budget, on time and to the high standards of the expectant public.
One new bridge will extend over the roof of the new Aquatics Centre, designed by Zaha Hadid. Like the Olympic Stadium, whilst the Aquatics Centre is set to be a permanent fixture on the site, it will be temporarily expanded while the games are in progress. Alongside a swimming and diving facility with capacity to seat 17,500, will be a water polo base, created by David Morley Architects, capable of seating a modest 5,000 spectators. Construction of this facility will commence in spring 2011, with completion scheduled for spring 2012, leaving time for final testing before the 2012 Olympic Games. The entire Aquatics Centre is designed to be a ‘gateway’ for the Olympic Park, as it is believed that two-thirds of visitors will enter the Park via the elevated 40m wide, 250m long footbridge above the Centre.
Situated within walking distance of the Olympic Park, (and a seven-minute high-speed shuttle ride) is the Athlete’s Village, which will provide residential accommodation to approximately 17,000 athletes and officials during the summer games. In an attempt to retain a sense of London tradition, the Village was designed around a series of central courtyards, which will include water features in an attempt to accentuate the neighbouring River Lea. There are also plans for a ‘Village Plaza’ – a central communal space where athletes can relax and socialise with friends, family and their competitors. Residences are set to have exceptional views across the London cityscape, with comfortable accommodation and state-of-the-art technology throughout. After the Olympics are over, plans call to convert the Athletes Village into essential new residences for the East London area, creating 2,800 new homes, 1,379 of which have been classified as ‘affordable’. Post-Olympic plans for this site also include designs for a new educational facility, Chobham Academy – a world-class campus for 1,800 children aged 3-19.
Arguably the most iconic, and perhaps controversial, structure that we are set to see from the London 2012 Olympic project is the ‘The ArcelorMittal Orbit’ – a £19.1million, 115m high visitor centre designed by award-winning architect Anish Kapoor. The project, announced 31 March by London Mayor Boris Johnson and Lakshmi Mittal, chairman and CEO of ArcelorMittal, will be constructed using continuous tubes of scarlet steel to form a dramatic latticework effect. Both lifts and stairs will be built into the form, offering visitors a variety of options to reach the elevated viewing platforms and restaurant, with unobstructed views across the Olympic Park to the London cityscape beyond. Developed in collaboration with Cecil Balmond of Arup, the design may be noted as a classic example of Anish Kapoor’s colourful, large scale and controversial architectural projects.
With an impressive list of architecture firms including Vogt Landschaftarchitekten, Patel Taylor, Fletcher Priest, MAKE, Piercy Conner and Glen Howells currently working on Olympic venues, the many new and refurbished facilities are, at the time of writing, on time and budget. The London 2012 Olympic buildings not only offer a wide variety of tastes, styles and finishes, but showcase the very best in architectural design. In this marathon, there is still no clear winner in terms of design, finish or architectural flair, (although my money is on Anish Kapoor’s Orbit) however on the brink of spring 2010, it may just be too early to call.