For rather than directing focus to the brief, glamorous moments in the spotlight, the team initiated the design process by working ‘from the inside out’ – like a silkworm making its cocoon – creating a streamlined sustainable container that will fulfl its function to minimalist perfection, and continue to inspire long after the cameras have moved on.
It is the long-term Olympics’ vision that is highlighted in this modest but beautiful structure, and a kind of truth in design: each element is there for a reason; there is nothing superfuous or self-indulgent, and maybe this is why people love it. It is the architectural equivalent of a world-class athlete.
The design process for the Velodrome began, not with the outline of the double curve as one might imagine, but with the central core and defning purpose of the structure – the cycling track itself. ‘We designed it for the legacy, to be as efficient as possible, and then converted it for the Games. We had a bicycle in mind, not as a literal image [as in the Beijing Olympics] but as an engineering idea. A bicycle is minimal, streamlined: we reduced the amount of materials, thereby reducing the cost and the carbon embedded in it, and we made it lightweight, we shrink-wrapped it – wrapping the 6,000 seats tightly around the track, making a building that simply defnes the volume inside it, focusing on the engineering, the philosophy,’ says Taylor.
This no-nonsense pragmatism is at the heart of the design, to the extent that a comment on the beauty of the Western red cedar curving into the air like a sculpture was instantly rebutted by the simple bare facts: ‘The red colour will soon fade to grey.’ There is also a strong sense, from Taylor’s comments, that the team of architects and engineers were in direct and deliberate competition with Beijing.
Using 56km of sustainable Siberian pine (shipped in 40mmx40mm cross-sections and requiring more than 350,000 nails), the track was designed by Ron Webb, who ‘works like a boat builder’ and designed tracks for Sydney, Athens and Manchester. Somewhat surprisingly, given the absolute precision of sport, Webb slightly modifes the shape each time; for 2012 ‘he tweaked the geometry of the curve’, fnding a balance in pleasing the different cycling disciplines that will perform on the track.
As Taylor says, the task was then ‘to integrate the engineering and architectural thinking, to refect the geometry of the track and to create a building that exudes dynamism… We went for a light structure [the roof structure weighs less than half that of the Beijing velodrome] and the double-curving structure is very efficient; it’s a saddle shape that cuts down on the cladding, and it’s as fat as possible: the roof across the suspended part dips by 8m and the arch is only 4m, so the length between the tallest and lowest parts is only 12m…. We were also