There is no denying the superb quality of architectural design displayed at the London 2012 Olympic Park. A mammoth effort has gone into showcasing both international and domestic design talent and the speed at which it can be achieved, with more than a sprinkling of ingenious sustainable alternatives across the site.
As the deadline of the world’s largest sporting event draws ever closer, pressure has begun to mount on the organisational team and the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) has resolutely being broadcasting the official line that the construction is both on time and on budget. But the other core objective, the all important legacy, seems to have slipped under the carpet.
But cracks in this perfect facade began to show this weekend as BBC Radio 4 reporter Allan Urry interviewed a number of stakeholders and decision makers for the Games in a series of lively question and answer sessions on the Olympic Legacy.
One particularly enlightening exchange between Urry and Hugh Robertson, Minister for Sport in the Government Department for Culture, Media and Sport saw Robertson accuse his interviewer of laying ‘traps’ in order for him to expose the real financial figures for the Games.
While Robertson did reveal that the official figure of £9.3bn was supplemented by £2bn of private investment it was left to former National Audit Office employee Pam Stapleton (now a Professor of Accountancy at the University of Manchester’s Business School) to divulge that the complete package will include data included in the financial records of the host boroughs, London’s emergency services, the National Health Service (NHS) and various governmental departments. It is only when these figures are added up that we will be able to analyse whether the UK’s public purse really is getting value for money.
Money woes aside the most astonishing revelation of Urry’s assessment was the lack of occupied space post-Games. That the Olympic Stadium still lacks a private owner has been highly publicised (following a drawn-out contest between West Ham and Tottenham Hotspur football clubs which eventually fell through under legal wrangling) but the latest disclosure is that the one million square foot Media Centre also remains tenant-less.
Said to be of similar proportions to Canary Wharf laid flat, the impressive Allies and Morrison-designed building is capable of hosting 20,000 journalists and photographers during the two week event but for London Assembly Member Andrew Boff it is ‘an absolute indictment of the place that we still don’t know what it’s going to be used for’ after the athletes return home. A building of this immense scale has various options for post-Games usage however the LDA is still having trouble tying someone to a contract.
Also on the agenda was a thorough analysis of the much-celebrated Aquatics Centre by Zaha Hadid Architects. Although few can fault the grace and style of this landmark facility, concerns have been raised as to its sensitivity to the Olympic Legacy, with Boff arguing that the building is ‘too large’ and ‘over-designed’ for public use.
Plans are to open up the Centre to the community after the international sporting event with official estimates suggesting annual visitor numbers of 800,000, however with running costs reaching around £2m per annum, it looks like public money will be used to subsidise entrance fees.
The design itself has also come under criticism from Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of the London Borough of Newham who revealed that an offer to fund a conversion from an Olympic standard venue into a leisure pool by the Councils of Newham and Tower Hamlets was rejected in favour of a more ‘iconic’ form, the design of which does not allow for the insertion of slides and other leisure equipment.
Once again the Games’ organisers were struck down for their short-sighted decision making process and commissioning of certain forms that are better suited to the two-week sporting competition than the decades of public use that follow.
There is little argument over the extraordinary showcase of architectural talent displayed at the Olympic Park and at no point does Urry suggest that the structures are unfit for their immediate purpose as host venues for the two week Olympic Games. What he does is indicate some concerning statistics regarding the potential expenditure of the organisational bodies overseeing the construction of the Park and highlight the pitfalls of the previously celebrated London 2012 Olympic Legacy. Whether these will come to fruition we have only to wait and see.