The London Olympics are under starter’s orders. On 6 July 2005 it was announced in Singapore by the International Olympic Committee that London would host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, from 27 July to 12 August. The capital is the first city to host the modern Olympic Games three times, having previously hosted the sporting spectacle in 1908 and 1948.
The past seven years have seen the Lea Valley and Stratford in London’s East End transform into the Olympic Zone, with a melange of venues – some permanent, some temporary – that will host the sporting action (see next two pages for details).
1. AQUATICS CENTRE
Architects: Zaha Hadid
Sports: Swimming, diving, synchronised swimming and modern pentathlon
Future use: Local community pool with seating capacity reduced to 2,500
The star of the Olympic Park is undoubtedly the £269m Aquatics Centre. The undulating 3,000-tonne roof appears to defy gravity, and is supported in just three places. It envelops two Olympic-sized pools and a 50m diving pool. The bolted-on wings that currently blight the structure will be removed after the Games and replaced with a curtain of glass, which should further accentuate the beautiful, organic shape of the roof. The landmark building of the Olympic Park, the Aquatics Centre was seen by many as the building that would add a sense of glamour to a very safe and economical Olympic bid.
2. WATER POLO ARENA
Architects: David Morley Architects
Sports: Water polo
Future use: The building will be dismantled and recycled
Described by the architect as being built in the style ‘of a giant Meccano set’, the £30m Water Polo Arena utilises simple, recyclable materials to create a building which can be dismantled quickly and put to use in another context once the Games are over. The structure’s design is informed by its proximity to other, more prominent, Olympic venues, and aims to create sense of conformity in the park, with its shape echoing one of the ‘wings’ of Hadid’s Aquatics Centre.
3. OLYMPIC STADIUM
Future use: A mixed sports venue or football stadium with athletics
Designed from the outset not to become another Olympic white elephant, the London 2012 Stadium was designed to eventually shrink, making it a more viable structure for future development. An economical, lightweight and ultimately inexpensive solution was also integral to the stadium’s conception. The £500m structure has been blighted by controversy, with issues ranging from who will take on responsibility for it right down to the issue of Dow Chemical, the company blamed by many for the 1984 Bhopal chemical disaster in India which killed 15,000, sponsoring the plastic wrapping which will adorn the exterior of the venue.
4. BASKETBALL ARENA
Architects: Wilkinson Eyre
Future use: It is looking likely that it will be reused in 2016
For many, the Basketball Arena is the epitome of what a modern Olympic bid should embody. The ingenious temporary structure uses scaffold as the primary building skeleton over which bright white recyclable PVC is stretched to create a dynamic and stimulating exterior. By night, the structure provides a canvas for a dramatic lighting show, while inside the building’s humble origins are difficult to spot with dramatic black and red seating animating the black interior. The future of the £42m structure also seems to be secure, with a number of parties interested in the building post-Games, including the team behind the bid for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Architects: Hopkins Architects
Sports: Track cycling
Future use: The Velodrome will form the centrepiece of a new Velopark
Emerging as a surprise London 2012 favourite, The Pringle — as it has become affectionately known — cost a very reasonable £96m. Its use of natural wood to echo the surface of the actual track, and the way in which the structure is embedded into the surrounding landscape, is a breath of fresh air when compared to many of the cold, steel designs favoured for the other buildings on the Olympic site. The warm, enveloping building cocoons the track and stands both efficiently and beautifully within its wooden shell.
6. RIVERBANK ARENA
Capacity: 16,000 Architects: Populous Sports: Hockey
Future use: The building will be dismantled and relocated
The third major temporary structure within the Olympic Park. Once the Games are over the site of this £19m arena will be transformed into an expanse of parkland. Its distinctive pitches in bold, London 2012 colours provide a striking addition to the Olympic Park, while the tiered seating is arranged in a horseshoe shape. The London skyline, viewed from one side of the site provides, a fourth facade to the arena, cleverly connecting the sporting events to the city. Designed with television cameras and the media in mind, the venue’s location and backdrop should provide some spectacular scenes over the course of the Games.
7. THE COPPER BOX
Sports: Handball, modern pentathlon, goalball
Future use: A sports and entertainment venue for the local community
The Olympic Park’s indoor arena, which will eventually become a local community centre, has some surprises hidden within its unassuming copper shell from which it gets its name. The handball arena’s cavernous black interior is playfully animated with brightly coloured seats and sun pipes penetrating the ceiling, invigorating what, on paper, was a brief for a mundane structure with a budget of £44m. Again, flexibility was paramount in the design of the arena, as the structure will be used as a mixed-use sports and entertainment venue. The Copper Box is expected to become an integral part of the new community that will take ownership of the Olympic Park once the Games are over.