On the home stretch...

Monday 23 Jul 2012

3 days to opening of London Olympic Park

The countdown has begun to the London 2012 Olympic Games, where sports will take over centre stage from the construction of the immense Olympic Park at Stratford and the venues will be put to the test. This Friday 27 July, the gates to the park will open and the first non-competing visitors will gain access to years’ worth of blood, sweat and tears: the London Olympic Park.

More than 200 buildings had to be demolished before construction could begin on the 587acre London Olympic Park site back in 2006, the land being reclaimed from a former industrial brownfield site. 30 new bridges have been inserted and more than 600,000 tonnes of soil washed to remove any trace of contamination. Since the Victorian Era the site has been used for landfilling, a soap factory, gas works and various heavy industrial operations. It is now a verdant green space that will be free and open to the public one year from the opening ceremony on 27 July.

Main London airports Gatwick and Heathrow have been flooded with athletes, trainers and sporting professionals over the past few weeks and are preparing for the mass influx of spectators. 80% of all travellers to the UK for the Games will pass through Heathrow with 13 August estimated to be the busiest day in the airport’s history. 1,000 volunteers have been recruited to help with this flood of people, a dedicated Games Terminal has been constructed, additional lifts have been inserted to reunite Paralympians with their wheelchairs on arrival, and media facilities will be available to travelling journalists.

The immense investment that has gone into updating the city’s infrastructure - Transport For London (TfL) has revamped many of the main underground stations ready for the Games as part of its £10bn 5-year Investment Programme - and wide-scale regeneration projects has caused some critics to suggest that the Olympics should be held in one location repeatedly.

Yesterday, an article by Miles Goslett was published on an online news site, suggesting that the Games be held in the birthplace of the event every four years. It read: “Instead of the Olympics circus erecting its vast stadia at different points around the globe every four years the Games should always be held in the same city - Athens, where the first modern Olympics took place in 1896 in recognition of the Ancient Greeks effectively inventing the Olympics after holding athletic competitions at Olympia from 776BC. Rather than disrupting a different global city at regular intervals by imposing vast bills on its taxpayers to build new sporting complexes whose future use cannot be guaranteed…the International Olympic Committee could rid hundreds of millions of people of the Olympic threat at a stroke.”

It is true that vast quantities of taxpayers’ well-earned pounds have been channelled into constructing the London Olympic Park, external sporting venues and associated infrastructure however much of this will be retained in the comprehensive legacy plan, revitalising some of the most destitute parts of the capital. It is also estimated that £10bn of revenue will be generated for the British economy in the 29 days that the Olympics and Paralympics are being held.

Several of the venues have been well documented through their design and construction, even winning prestigious architecture awards before the Games have begun. Hopkins Architects’ curvilinear Velodrome is the jewel in the Olympic crown, which took the People’s Choice Award at the Stirling Prize contest in 2011, the RIBA Award for Architecture and the New London Architecture ‘Play’ Award.

Also at the top of the list of architecture favourites is Zaha Hadid’s ethereal Aquatics Centre; an adaptable form, this elegantly swooping structure features two soaring wings of seating which will be removed post-Games to create a smaller venue for public use. Word is however that the contestants of the Backstroke event have had trouble staying in their lanes as the straight lines of ceiling tiles usually used as a guide are missing in Hadid’s curved roof.

The most disliked architectural feature of the London Olympic Park has to be Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond’s ArcelorMittal Orbit. A mangled scarlet steelwork beast it arches into the sky at 115m in height topped with a viewing platform and encircled with a thick illuminated staircase.

Just as important as these permanent venues are the temporary ones. Wilkinson Eyre’s Basketball Arena is a textured white box constructed using PVC. It is one of the largest temporary venues in the Games and two thirds of construction materials used in the building will be recycled after the summer events.

Also utilising recyclable PVC is Magma Architecture’s Shooting Venue at the Royal Artillery Barracks offsite in Woolwich. This white form is punctuated with protruding blue nodules which disrupt the blank canvas of the temporary venue and provide natural ventilation and light.

It is important to remember that what we see before us now is not how the London Olympic Park will be even a handful of months from now. AEC powerhouse AECOM oversaw the masterplanning of the Park and is currently working on the plans for the Brazilian Olympics four years from now.

The first consultancy to masterplan for two consecutive Games, the firm says of its concept: “The AECOM-designed masterplan that secured London’s bid for the Games placed long-term urban regeneration of the Lower Lea Valley as its primary driver. This masterplan vision for the Olympic Park was created simultaneously with an idea of how the site would look in its post-Games legacy as a new district for London designed around a park. The concept was to design in reverse order…future first, with the staging of the Games as an event on route to completion.” Whether the regeneration plans for this deprived area of London live up to their promise of revitalising the area we have only to wait and see, but for now, the countdown continues.

Sian Disson
News Editor

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